Myanmar military arrests 2 journalists from friendly media

BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s military government, which has cracked down on independent media since seizing power last year, has arrested two journalists working for outlets sympathetic to it, a reporter familiar with their situation and a news report said Wednesday.

The two journalists were arrested last week right after attending an Information Ministry news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw, said the reporter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared he could also be arrested.

Win Oo, editor of New History for People, which primarily posts videos on YouTube, and Zaw Min Oo, editor of Dae Pyaw, or “Tell Forthrightly,” a small online news service, are believed to be the first journalists from media sympathetic to the ruling military to be arrested. There has been no official report about their arrests, which appear to be related to questions they asked at the news conference that may have annoyed the authorities.

Since ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi last year, the military government has shut down virtually all critical outlets and arrested nearly 150 journalists, publishers and media executives. More than 50 remain detained, most of them on the charge of incitement for allegedly causing fear, spreading false news, or agitating against a government employee.

The military-run Information Ministry usually holds a news conference at least once a month and journalists from about 20 news outlets are regular attendees. Very few pose difficult questions, and very few journalists from the small number of independent outlets that are still legally operating attend the news conferences.

Win Oo was arrested for referring to Aung San Suu Kyi four times as “Amay Suu,” or “Mother Suu,” an affectionate term of respect used by her supporters, and for calling for to be released along with journalists before asking a question about the increase in prices of commodities.

Suu Kyi was arrested the day of the army takeover and has been tried on a variety of charges and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Her supporters and right groups describe the cases against her as fabricated and intended to prevent her future participation in politics.

Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, the military’s spokesperson, did not respond to the comments about Suu Kyi, though he answered Win Oo’s other questions.

The reporter who spoke on condition of anonymity said it was unclear why Zaw Min Oo, who was at the news conference, was arrested on the same day. The Democratic Voice of Burma, an online and radio news agency that is critical of the military, reported that according to another journalist at the news conference, he was arrested for questioning whether cease-fire talks between the army and the Karen National Union, a major ethnic rebel group in eastern Myanmar, had broken down because there was no parliament in place. The cease-fire talks are often cited by the military as one of its accomplishments.

The two arrested journalists are being held in the main prison in Naypyitaw, it reported.

Zaw Min Oo has been arrested at least once before, when Suu Kyi was still in power. In May 2020 he was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly reporting false information about the coronavirus pandemic. Press freedom groups decried his arrest, one of several showing that freedom of speech was also impaired under Suu Kyi’s government.

The crisis caused by last year's army takeover has also resulted in large-scale violence. The seizure of power was met with widespread peaceful protests that were quashed with lethal force, triggering armed resistance that some U.N. experts have characterized as civil war.