YANGON – A video of the arrest of Associated Press journalist Thein Zaw as he was photographing Myanmar security forces charging at anti-coup protesters shows him being quickly surrounded and held in a chokehold as handcuffs are placed on him.
Authorities have charged Thein Zaw and five other members of the media with violating a public order law that could see them imprisoned for up to three years.
The video starts with Thein Zaw standing by the side of a road on Saturday photographing dozens of security forces as they run at a group of protesters in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city.
Several police run at him, and he tries to escape. At least seven surround him as he is placed in a chokehold. He is pushed and shoved and quickly handcuffed. A policeman with a bullhorn then uses the handcuffs to pull him away.
Many of the police are carrying truncheons, while some have what appear to be guns and automatic weapons.
“The Associated Press calls for the immediate release of AP journalist Thein Zaw, who has been charged with a crime in Myanmar for simply doing his job,” Ian Phillips, AP vice president for international news, said Wednesday. “Independent journalists must be allowed to freely and safely report the news without fear of retribution. AP condemns the charge against Thein Zaw and his arbitrary detention.”
The military ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a Feb. 1 coup. Protesters have demonstrated peacefully against the coup even as security forces have dramatically escalated their crackdown. On Wednesday, at least 34 protesters were killed in several cities, according to accounts on social media and local news reports compiled by a data analyst.
Authorities have also arrested people en masse.
Lawyer Tin Zar Oo, who represents Thein Zaw, said his client was one of six journalists who have been charged under a law that punishes anyone who causes fear among the public, knowingly spreads false news, or agitates directly or indirectly for a criminal offense against a government employee. The law was amended by the junta last month to broaden its scope and increase the maximum prison term from two years.
The group includes journalists working for Myanmar Now, Myanmar Photo Agency, 7Day News, Zee Kwet online news and a freelancer.
The U.S. said it was concerned about the increasing attacks on and arrests of journalists by Myanmar security forces. “We call on the military to immediately release these individuals and to cease intimidation and harassment of the media and others unjustly detained merely for doing their jobs for exercising their universal rights,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said to reporters in Washington.
Rights and press freedom groups also have demanded the journalists’ release.
“AAJA-Asia stands in full support of Burmese journalists, and urges all Myanmar authorities to uphold press freedom and allow the media to report on the news without fear of reprisal,” the Asian American Journalists Association’s Asia Chapter said in a statement. “We call for an immediate end to the violence, censorship and persecution.”
Thein Zaw, 32, is reported to be held in Insein Prison in northern Yangon, notorious for housing political prisoners under previous military regimes.
According to the lawyer, Thein Zaw was remanded into custody by a court and can be held until March 12 without another hearing or further action.
In December 2017, two journalists working for the Reuters news agency were arrested while working on a story about Myanmar’s Rohingya minority. They were accused of illegally possessing official documents, although they argued that they were framed because of official opposition to their reporting.
Although their case attracted international attention, they were convicted the following year and were sentenced to seven years behind bars. They were freed in 2019 in a mass presidential pardon.