Since the National League for Democracy, the party led by the Nobel Peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, came to power last year, the government has prosecuted scores of people, including journalists, activists and others who have criticized its authority in articles or social media posts.
“These arrests and detentions, and recent cases where editors were imprisoned, demonstrate that Burma is unsafe for reporters to work,” said Mr. Aung Zaw, the editor. “The return of the climate of fear is very disturbing.”
The prosecutions have sent a deep chill through the press corps in Myanmar and disappointed many supporters of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner who is idolized in Myanmar as a transcendent figure whose life story epitomizes dogged resistance to authoritarianism.
A spokesman for the National League for Democracy, U Win Htein, said the journalists had no business in the area without government permission.
“For media personnel, press freedom is a key need,” he told MNTV, a national television channel. “For us, peace, national development and economic development are the priority, and then democracy and human rights, including press freedom.”
The three journalists had traveled into territory controlled by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, one of several ethnic militia groups battling the government in the eastern hinterlands, to attend a drug-burning event that the rebels were holding to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, their editors said. Shan State is a hotbed of opium farming, an industry that is controlled by groups fighting for autonomy from the central government.
Mr. Lawi Weng was also there to investigate allegations of abuse by troops of ethnic-minority villagers, according to Mr. Aung Zaw. A brutal video showing what appeared to be soldiers from the Myanmar Army and related militias beating six unidentified men under interrogation had spread weeks earlier on social media.
Mr. Win Htein said the journalists had broken the 1908 law by meeting with the rebel group, which the government considers an unlawful organization.
U Aye Chan Naing, the chief editor of The Democratic Voice of Burma, said the reporters had simply been “doing their job.”
“In any country around the world, journalists have to cover news from both sides of the conflict,” he said by email.
Most of the prosecutions of journalists and critics have come under more recent legislation, a broad provision of the 2013 Telecommunications Law that criminalizes “defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening any person” online.
Of the 72 cases that have been brought under the 2013 legislation, seven were brought under the previous military-backed government and 65 under the democratically elected one, according to a group of activists called the Research Team for Telecommunications Law in Myanmar.
Those cases include charges against 14 journalists, as well as against activists and ordinary members of the public, who posted online about politics or criticized the country’s two most powerful figures: Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and the military commander in chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.
In one prominent case last fall, the chief executive and the top editor of Eleven Media, one of Myanmar’s largest private media companies, were charged after publishing a report accusing a top official of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party of corruption. They were held without bail at Insein Prison, where the military once held political prisoners, until the company publicly apologized in January.
In May, the military used the law to prosecute The Voice, a newspaper, for publishing a satirical article that mocked a military propaganda film, “The Faith of the Union.” The article suggested that the film should instead be called “The Faith of the Bullet-Hole Union” in recognition of the country’s slow-burning civil wars.
The author of the article was released from jail in June after his editor testified that he was solely responsible for it. The editor, U Kyaw Min Swe, who has since publicly apologized for the report, is still being held without bail.
The prosecutions have inflamed critics who accuse the Aung San Suu Kyi government of turning its back on human rights. The government has been widely assailed for its failure to address the persecution of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, and on Friday, the authorities said that they would deny entry to members of a planned United Nations-backed mission to investigate allegations of state-sponsored violence against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities.
The campaign against journalists and against other critics “hurts the whole notion that her N.L.D. government stands for democratic progress and protection of rights,” said Shawn W. Crispin, the senior Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, an advocacy group based in New York. “And that was something she was, in part, elected on,” he added.
The three journalists who were charged on Wednesday are expected to appear in court on July 11.
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