Wed, 16 Jun 2021

Three journalists who fled to Thailand to escape censorship in Myanmar may be at risk of deportation after being arrested during a random police search.

The journalists from the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) were arrested in the Thai city of Chiang Mai on Sunday and charged with illegal entry into the country.

All three had been covering the unrest and protests in Myanmar following the February 1 military coup, until the junta revoked the outlet's license March 8. The DVB is one of several independent outlets to be blocked or forced to close.

The journalists were in Thailand to continue their reporting after DVB was banned by the military, DVB's chief editor, Aye Chan Naing, told VOA Burmese. A statement released by DVB did not release the names of those detained.

Aye Chan Naing said Thai authorities may receive deportation requests from the junta. He appealed to foreign embassies and international organizations in Thailand for assistance, saying his journalists will face serious danger if forced to return. He also called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangkok to intervene.

Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was exploring options.

"Thai authorities concerned are coordinating to find possible humanitarian solution(s) to this case," the ministry said in comments shared with VOA Thai.

In this photo released by the San Sai District Administrative Office, journalists working for Democratic Voice of Burma,... In this photo released by the San Sai District Administrative Office, journalists working for Democratic Voice of Burma prepare to get into a van after being arrested, May 9, 2021.

Forcing the journalists to return to Myanmar could put them at serious risk, human rights watchdog Amnesty International said.

"There have long been credible reports of torture and other ill-treatment in detention in Myanmar," Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty's deputy regional director for campaigns, said in a statement. "Several people detained in recent weeks have died in detention in unexplained circumstances."

Poet Khet Thi died in detention after authorities took him in for interrogation on Saturday along with his wife, Chaw Su.

Deporting the journalists would be a breach of Thailand's obligation under international law to non-refoulement, the policy of not returning refugees or asylum-seekers who could face persecution, Hah said.

"Thailand has long played host to displaced and exiled communities from Myanmar. Whether they are targeted for their brave journalism work, escaping airstrikes or evading other forms of attacks by the military, people in Myanmar are fleeing again today. We urge the Thai authorities to give sanctuary to those seeking safety in line with international law," Hah said.

In the first 100 days after the coup - marked Tuesday - 3,859 people are still detained and 783 killed, according to data from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), a Thai-based human rights organization.

Yuki Kitazumi, a Japanese freelancer detained by military forces in mid-April, is the first foreign journalist to be charged since the military took control, Reuters reported. Kitazumi, who previously worked at the Tokyo-based business daily Nikkei, faces charges of spreading false news and is detained in Yangon's Insein Prison. If convicted, Kitazumi could face up to three years in prison.

A spokesperson for the United Nations last week called on Myanmar to release dozens of journalists, adding that more than 80 have been arrested since the coup and that the military has revoked operating licenses of six major news outlets.

A spokesperson for Myanmar's army said at a news conference in March the military "respects and values press freedom" and arrests only journalists who incite unrest.

Ad campaign pulled

Coverage of the coup has hit news outlets overseas in other ways. On May 6, the French oil company Total pulled a $61,000 advertising campaign from the French newspaper Le Monde after the paper reported on Total's operations in Myanmar.

The paper alleged that Total paid revenue directly to Myanmar's military via the Moattama Gas Transportation Company (MGTC), a consortium allegedly managed by the military. The consortium allowed hundreds of millions of dollars to go directly to the military rather than the state through taxes, Le Monde alleged.

Total did not respond to VOA's request for comment. It published a statement May 4 responding to the claims in Le Monde's reporting.

The oil company said it used a "classic arrangement that was approved by Myanmar's authorities at the time and has continued with successive governments until today." Its CEO wrote in a French op-ed last month that "respect for human rights is at the heart of our conduct."

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Paris-based journalist advocacy group, condemned Total's actions and called on the company to end its operations in Myanmar.

Le Monde confirmed to Agence France-Presse that Total had pulled the advertising. The paper did not respond to VOA's request for comment.

This report includes contributions from VOA Burmese.

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