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Police persecution of journalists and anti-corruption activists in Myanmar must stop

Transparency International calls for the authorities in Myanmar to immediately cease their ongoing crackdown on anti-corruption activists and independent media outlets. The government must allow a safe environment for civil society organisations and independent media to publish objective and impartial information, which is especially vital during the current public health emergency.

A police raid on 31 March targeted Tha Lun Zaung Htet, head of Khit Thit Media Yangon. He remains in hiding. Khit Thit Media has worked with Transparency International on anti-corruption trainings and education, and by organizing youth civic engagement projects.

“Transparency International has been cooperating with several organization in Myanmar since 2017, allowing us to realize numerous activities aimed at decreasing corruption in the country,” said David Ondráčka, a member of the board of Transparency International. “It is appalling that some of these partners are now being persecuted under trumped up terrorism charges for informing the public about the situation in their country. We urge Myanmar’s authorities to drop the charges against these journalists immediately.”

Police threatened to charge Tha Lun Zaung under the Counter-Terrorism Act for re-posting an interview with the spokesman of Arakan Army, an armed insurgent group in Rakhine State, on Khit Thit Media’s Facebook page. Arakan Army was recently designated a terrorist organisation by the Myanmar government. The interview was originally published by Voice of Myanmar. Both outlets have been targeted and Voice of Myanmar’s editor-in-chief Ko Nay Lin was arrested and held for ten days before being conditionally released on 9 April.

Additionally, according to media reports, in recent weeks, authorities in Myanmar have blocked access to hundreds of news websites, saying they carried “fake news” about the coronavirus epidemic. At least six journalists have been arrested or have fled the country.

Tha Lun Zaung said: “Although I have not committed any offence, I have been treated like a serious criminal and had to deal with a situation in which my family members, relatives and friends are threatened. More than 10 police officers entered my house, where my wife and my son also live, and asked personal information such as the owner of the house and the motor vehicle. In addition, the police tried to arrest two former editors of Khit Thit Media who are no longer affiliated with it: my sister-in-law, Khin Hnin Kyi Thar and Ko Kan Zaw.”

“The interviews were reported in line with the provisions of the Media Law. I believe that what I have done is simply to adhere to the moral standards of a media professional. No laws have been broken,” Tha Lun Zaung added.

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