Rakhine-based journalists have expressed heightened concern for their safety following the Military Council troops' raid on the office of the Development Media Group (DMG) in Sittwe Township, where they arrested a reporter and a night watchman.
The arrest of a journalist in the line of duty reflects the precarious and risky working conditions that Rakhine-based journalists face, a Rakhine journalist told Narinjara.
"It's evident that the Military Council is increasingly targeting journalists. The arrest of a journalist covering a religiously significant event, rather than a political protest, underscores the Junta’s strong animosity towards journalists, and this raises the risk for all Rakhine-based reporters”, he said.
A female reporter from Rakhine State also suggested that there is a growing belief that the Rakhine State Military Council is prepared to apprehend journalists at any place and time, which there is a heightened risk faced by field reporters.
"The arrest of a field reporter means other reporters might think twice about covering certain issues on the ground. This could lead to fewer field reports. Even when news breaks, reporters may hesitate to go immediately, which seems to align with the Military Council's goals. When reporters gather information first-hand, the news tends to be more accurate. If field reporting is restricted, it could impact the accuracy of the news. Exploiting this, the Military Council might control information dissemination more effectively”, she elaborated.
In addition to the raid on DMG's office, the Military Council has also confiscated computers, cameras, and bank account books, while sealing off the premises.
Soldiers arrested DMG reporter Ko Htet Aung during his coverage of a food donation ceremony for Buddhist monks at Winkapa Plaza in Sittwe Township on October 29th, and DMG has issued a statement stating that the reasons for his arrest are currently under investigation.
Following the DMG office raid, journalists from both the DMG and other Rakhine-based news outlets are preemptively avoiding potential risks.
“This act stifles media freedom and the people's right to the truth, which should never happen. In Rakhine State, DMG is a trusted news source that prioritizes accuracy and comprehensive reporting from various perspectives. It's disheartening to see a media outlet like DMG, which strives to present a balanced view of the government (Military Council) and the other side (resistance movement), facing such treatment. It's akin to forcibly shutting the eyes and ears of the local communities. DMG has also endured significant losses due to this situation, making it extremely challenging to continue reporting. The raid has sent shockwaves through the entire news world”, an official of DMG told Narinjara.
In 2019, DMG's editor-in-chief, U Aung Min Oo, was previously charged by the Rakhine State Military Council under Section 17-2 of the Unlawful Associations Act. In 2021 an executive editor and a reporter from DMG faced charges under Section 66(D) of the Telecommunications Act.
During May and October of last year, the editor-in-chief and a reporter from another Rakhine-based media outlet, Narinjara, were charged by the Military Council under Section 505(A) and Section 66(D) of the Telecommunications Act.
In another case on January 22nd 2022, the editor-in-chief and a reporter from the Rakhine-based news outlet, Western News, were charged with treason and sedition under Section 124-A by the Military Council's Major Bhone Myint Kyaw.
At present, Rakhine-based media outlets are unable to establish permanent office spaces to evade the targeted oppression of the Military Council, and they are operating solely in a mobile capacity.
The incident that precipitated the raid on DMG office involved Military Council soldiers coercing the captured journalist to lead them to his workplace, subsequently gaining access to the office. This has intensified the concerns of all Rakhine-based journalists.