Myanmar court extends detention of journalist covering protests

Associated Press photojournalist Thein Zaw could be sent to prison for three years

Associated Press (AP) photojournalist Thein Zaw in Yangon, Myanmar. Photograph: Stringer/EPA

Associated Press (AP) photojournalist Thein Zaw in Yangon, Myanmar. Photograph: Stringer/EPA

 

A court in Myanmar has extended the pre-trial detention period for an Associated Press journalist who was arrested while covering demonstrations against the military’s seizure of power last month.

Thein Zaw, 32, is facing a charge that could send him to prison for three years.

He was one of nine media workers taken into custody during a street protest on February 27th in Yangon, the country’s largest city, and has been held without bail.

His next hearing at the Kamayut Township court will be on March 24th.

The hearing on Friday, which Mr Zaw attended via video link, came at the end of his initial remand period.

Mr Zaw and at least six other members of the media have been charged with violating a public order law, according to his lawyer, Tin Zar Oo, and the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Separate hearings were held on Friday for the other detained journalists.

Ms Oo and one of Mr Zaw’s brothers were allowed into the courtroom to take part in the 10-minute hearing.

Members of the media gather outside Kamaryut Court in Yangon on March 12th, 2021. Photograph: STR/AFP via Getty
Members of the media gather outside Kamaryut Court in Yangon on March 12th, 2021. Photograph: STR/AFP via Getty

She said she was able to submit documents giving her power of attorney for the case, but might only be allowed to submit a bail application at the next hearing.

Reporters and a US embassy official were not allowed into the court.

Mr Zaw had not been seen by his lawyer or any of his family members since his arrest. Ms Oo said visits at Insein Prison, where he is being held, are not allowed because of coronavirus concerns, so his family has been dropping off food and supplies for him at the gate.

Ms Oo told The Associated Press that her client looked healthy at Friday’s hearing, but he suffers from asthma at night. She said Mr Zaw’s brother also commented that he had lost weight.

Photographing police

Mr Zaw was arrested as he was photographing police, some of them armed, charging down a street at anti-coup protesters.

A video shows that as he steps to the side of the street to get out of their way, several police rush over and surround him. One puts him in a chokehold as he is handcuffed and then taken away.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 38 journalists have been detained since the military ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1st. Nineteen are still incarcerated.

The group says it has verified the detentions of more than 2,000 people as well as 69 deaths.

In another move against the media, authorities this week cancelled the licences of five local outlets that had extensively covered the protests.

Mizzima, Democratic Voice of Burma, Khit Thit Media, Myanmar Now and 7Day News have continued operating despite being barred from broadcasting or publishing on any media platform.

The Associated Press and many press freedom organizations have called for the release of Zaw and the other detained journalists.

Even during Ms Suu Kyi’s time in office, journalists were often sued over their reporting.

In the highest-profile case, two journalists working for the Reuters news agency were arrested in 2017 while working on a story about military violence directed at Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.

They were accused of illegally possessing official documents and sentenced to seven years behind bars before being freed in 2019 in a mass presidential pardon. – AP