The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Wednesday said Myanmar has risen to the top of countries that criminalize and persecute independent journalism.
“Myanmar’s junta has effectively criminalized independent journalism, arresting and charging journalists, closing news outlets, restricting access for international reporters, and driving journalists underground or into exile. Within a few months of the February military coup, the country has become one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists,” the NGO said.
Since the February 1 coup in the country, the military junta has amended the penal code to create new offenses and expand existing ones to target dissident voices and those encouraging others to support the “Civil Disobedience Movement” against the military regime.
According to CPJ, 23 journalists are charged under the amended article 505a, which criminalizes “any attempt to cause fear, spread false news or agitate directly or indirectly a criminal offense against a government employee” or that “causes their hatred, disobedience, or disloyalty toward the military and the government.” The amendments increased maximum prison sentences under the law from two to three years.
“The use of 505(a) since the coup has effectively made independent journalism a crime under the junta’s emergency rule, which military authorities have said will remain in place for at least one year,” CPJ said in the report.
As of July 1, at least 32 journalists are behind bars.
Myanmar’s post-coup assault on the press is a sharp reversal from liberalizing policies implemented in 2012 that freed journalists from prison, ended pre-publication censorship, and allowed independent media to take root across the country, including in ethnic areas where such reporting was previously banned.
On February 1, the Myanmar military overthrew the civilian government and declared a year-long state of emergency. The coup triggered mass protests, which were quashed with deadly violence, resulting in the death of over 700 people. Additionally, about 3,000 protesters were detained, according to rights activists.