Myanmar court extends detention of AP journalist

·4 min read

YANGON, Myanmar — A court in Myanmar extended on Friday the pretrial detention of an Associated Press journalist who was arrested while covering demonstrations against a coup. He is facing a charge that could send him to prison for three years.

Thein Zaw, 32, was one of nine media workers taken into custody during a protest on Feb. 27 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 24.

Friday's hearing, which Thein Zaw attended via videoconference, came at the end of his initial remand period.

Thein 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 Friday for the other detained journalists.

Tin Zar Oo and one of Thein Zaw's brothers were allowed into the courtroom to take part in the 10-minute videoconference. Tin Zar Oo said she was able to submit documents giving her power of attorney for the case, but only at the next hearing might be allowed to submit a bail application.

A representative of the U.S. Embassy was also present, said Aryani Manring, a spokeswoman for the mission.

Thein Zaw had not been seen by his lawyer or any of his family members since his arrest. Tin Zar Oo said visits at Insein Prison, where her client 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.

Tin Zar Oo said that her client looked healthy during Friday's hearing, but he suffers from asthma at night. She said Thein Zaw’s brother noted that he had lost weight.

Thein Zaw was arrested as he was photographing police, some of them armed, charging down a street at anti-coup protesters. A video shows that although he stepped to the side of the street to get out of their way, several police rushed over and surrounded him. One put him in a chokehold as he was 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 Feb. 1. Nineteen are still incarcerated.

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

On Friday, local media in Shan State in eastern Myanmar reported that a freelance journalist from Poland had been beaten and arrested by security forces.

The online Kanbawza Tai News said a foreign photojournalist was arrested Thursday while taking pictures of a protest in the city of Taunggyi. A photo provided to the news site shows a man trapped against a wall with one arm raised as he is surrounded by about 10 soldiers.

Germany’s dpa news agency said the man, Robert Bociaga, 30, has been working for the news service, and it has not been able to contact him.

“We are deeply shocked by the arrest and apparent mistreatment of Robert Bociaga,” said the agency’s editor-in-chief, Sven Goesmann. “This is an intolerable and unacceptable attack on the freedom of the press and, even in this brutal form, is unfortunately not an isolated case.”

The Polish Foreign Ministry confirmed the arrest of a Polish journalist and said it was trying to contact the detained man and obtain information about his health and legal situation.

Earlier this week, Myanmar authorities cancelled the licenses 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 Thein Zaw and the other detained journalists.

The U.S. government, in addition to criticizing the coup and the violence of Myanmar’s security forces, has condemned the crackdown on the press in the Southeast Asian nation.

“We are deeply concerned about the increasing attacks on the freedom of expression, including for members of the press. We call for the release of journalists and for all others who have been unjustly detained," U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters in Washington on Thursday.

Even during Suu Kyi’s time in office, journalists were often sued for 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.

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This story has been corrected to show that a representative of the U.S. Embassy attended Friday's court hearing and that Sven Goesmann's title is editor-in-chief, not deputy editor-in-chief.

The Associated Press