The Society of Professional Journalists has called on Myanmar to release Associated Press journalist Thein Zaw and five other journalists detained while covering protests in the Southeast Asian country, saying it is “frustrated and fed up” with the arrests of reporters doing their work.
The country’s oldest media group also demanded that any journalist detained while doing their job be released without charge, citing at least four journalists who are due in court this month after being arrested last summer while covering Black Lives Matter protests.
In a statement released Friday, the Indianapolis-based organization said, “We encourage all Americans to join us in a movement to convince public officials that journalism is not a crime.”
Thein Zaw was detained on February 27 while covering a rally against the military coup that deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government. A video of his arrest shows him being surrounded and handcuffed while being held in a chokehold. His release has been demanded by the Associated Press.
Authorities have charged Thein Zaw and the other journalists with breaking a public order rule, which could result in up to three years in jail.
“Those journalists, like all journalists, are just doing their work and should not be penalized. What part of the phrase “journalism is not a crime” does the government not understand? In a tweet, SPJ National President Matthew Hall said.
The party is also “appalled” that American journalists are still being prosecuted “for performing a public service.”
“We demand that law enforcement authorities in the United States drop all charges against any journalist arrested while doing their job, and we ask that the Biden administration publicly accept this demand.”
While the majority of the over 120 journalists arrested or detained while covering Black Lives Matter protests were released without charges, at least four are scheduled to appear in court this month on charges ranging from disorderly behavior to interference with official actions, according to the SPJ.
“Journalists in the United States and abroad must be free to do their work without fear of being arrested or retaliated against,” Hall said.