YANGON – Associated Press journalist Thein Zaw and several other members of the media who have been charged under a public order law while covering anti-coup protests in Myanmar are returning to court Wednesday.
It is the second round of hearings for the journalists, who were arrested on Feb. 27 and face up to three years behind bars. Thein Zaw’s lawyer, Tin Zar Oo, said after the first hearing on March 12 that she might be able to submit an application for bail on Wednesday.
About 40 members of the media have been detained since the coup, and roughly half of them remain in custody, according to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Seven, including Thein Zaw, were arrested on Feb. 27.
Authorities also canceled 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.
“Associated Press journalist Thein Zaw and all other journalists wrongly detained in Myanmar should be immediately and unconditionally released,” Shawn Crispin, senior representative for Southeast Asia of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said after the March 12 hearing. “The abuse of vague criminal charges to jail journalists is tantamount to making all news reporting a crime. Myanmar’s junta must stop detaining journalists and allow reporters to do their jobs without fear of reprisal.”
Thein Zaw and others are charged under Sub-Section 505(A) of the Penal Code, which criminalizes “any attempt to cause fear, spread false news, or agitate directly or indirectly a criminal offense against a government employee."
Section 505 covers seditious activities, and was amended by the junta to include a broader range of offenses and extend the maximum prison term from two years to three.
Thein Zaw was arrested as he was photographing police, some of them armed, charging 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.