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Conviction Of US Journalist Symbolic Of Media Repression In Myanmar: UN Rights Chief

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday urged authorities in Myanmar to immediately release all journalists who have been jailed for practicing their profession.

Rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the conviction and harsh sentencing of American journalist Danny Fenster was emblematic of a wider plight of journalists in the country who have faced constant repression, in the wake of a military coup in February.

Reverting to censorship

“Journalists have been under attack since 1 February, with the military leadership clearly attempting to suppress their attempts to report on the serious human rights violations being perpetrated across Myanmar as well as the extent of opposition to the regime”, she said.

“Myanmar has quickly reverted to an environment of information control, censorship and propaganda seen under military regimes in the past”.

Since the military takeover, at least 126 journalists, media officials or publishers have been detained in Myanmar, the UN rights chief said. Forty-seven are still in detention, 20 of whom have been charged with crimes related to their work as journalists.

She added that nine media outlets have had their licences revoked, while 20 others have had to suspend operations. Dozens of journalists are reportedly in hiding due to outstanding arrest warrants.

Second trial pending

Mr. Fenster, 37, is the managing editor of an independent magazine called Frontier Myanmar. On Friday he was sentenced to 11 years in jail by a military court in Yangon, the country’s largest city, for violating visa laws, unlawful association with an illegal group, and sowing dissent against the military.

The sentencing followed what Ms. Bachelet described as “a closed door, unfair trial”. Mr. Fenster still faces a second trial with charges of high treason and violations of the country's counter-terrorism law.

Deprivation of information

In deploring the persecution of journalists, Ms. Bachelet said that attacks against them further increase the vulnerability of huge sections of society who rely on accurate and independent information.

“With the crackdowns on journalists, internet shutdowns, restrictions on free access to online and other data sources, people are being deprived life-saving information”, she added.

“I urge the military authorities to immediately release all journalists being detained in relation to their work".

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