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After Reuters arrests, some Myanmar reporters fear 'it could've been me'

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by December 23, 2017 General

Myanmar has detained at least 29 journalists in the 20 months since Suu Kyi came to power. While most have since been released on bail, the frequency of arrests – along with the detention last week of two Reuters reporters – has rekindled worries among some journalists trying to cover violence in Rakhine State.

“There are too many risks being added to journalists,” said Sonny Swe, chief executive officer and co-founder of Yangon-based magazine Frontier. “I feel that we are not moving forward, but going back in time for freedom of press and speech.”

As of December, there were five reporters, including the Reuters pair, behind bars.

Reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo – who had worked on Reuters coverage of the crisis in Rakhine – were arrested on Dec. 12 in Yangon. The Ministry of Information said they had “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media”. They face up to 14 years in prison under the Official Secrets Act.

Myanmar authorities have said the case has nothing to do with press freedom.

“There are different views, based on where you stand … There’s press freedom in Myanmar as long as you follow the rules and regulations,” Kyaw Soe, director general of the Ministry of Information, told Reuters by phone on Thursday. He declined to comment further.

A vibrant domestic media has sprung up since the transition from military rule began in 2011 and pre-publication censorship was lifted in 2012.

Nevertheless, this year Myanmar was ranked 131 out of 180 nations for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders – in the bottom third, but ahead of seven countries in the region: Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Laos and Vietnam.

“The authorities continue to exert pressure on the media and even intervene directly to get editorial policies changed,” Reporters Without Borders said in a report this year.

Kyaw Zwa Moe, editor of Irrawaddy’s English edition, said in a commentary last week that Myanmar does have press freedom, “but with an invisible line”.

“No one can know where that line is because it’s unseen. When you touch or cross it, you’re finished,” he wrote.

PRESS FREEDOM, SOMETIMES

Although she is Myanmar’s de facto leader, Suu Kyi is forced to share power with the military, which runs security-related ministries and the police.

Suppression of the media has hardened, rights groups say, since October 2016, when Rohingya Muslim militants attacked security posts in Rakhine state, triggering a military crackdown that right groups say included killings, rape and arson.

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