A video of the arrest of Associated Press journalist Thein Zaw as he was photographing Myanmar security forces charging at anti-coup protesters shows him being quickly surrounded and held in a chokehold as handcuffs are placed on him.
Authorities have charged Thein Zaw and five other members of the media with violating a public order law that could see them imprisoned for up to three years.
The video starts with Thein Zaw standing by the side of a road on Saturday photographing dozens of security forces as they run at a group of protesters at an intersection in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, that has become a meeting point for demonstrators.
As they near, several police run at him and he tries to escape. At least seven surround him as he is placed in a chokehold. He is pushed and shoved and quickly handcuffed. A policeman with a bullhorn then uses the handcuffs to pull him away.
Many of the police are carrying truncheons, while some have what appear to be guns and automatic weapons.
The military ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a Feb. 1 coup. Protesters have continued to demonstrate peacefully against the coup even as security forces have repeatedly fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to disperse the crowds, and arrested protesters en masse.
The group of arrested journalists includes ones working for Myanmar Now, Myanmar Photo Agency, 7Day News, Zee Kwet online news and a freelancer.
Lawyer Tin Zar Oo, who represents Thein Zaw, said the six have been charged under a law that punishes anyone who causes fear among the public, knowingly spreads false news, or agitates directly or indirectly for a criminal offense against a government employee.
The law was amended by the junta last month to broaden its scope and increase the maximum prison term from two years.
Thein Zaw, 32, is reported to be held in Insein Prison in northern Yangon, notorious for housing political prisoners under previous military regimes.
According to the lawyer, Thein Zaw was remanded into custody by a court and can be held until March 12 without another hearing or further action.
The AP has called for his immediate release.
“Independent journalists must be allowed to freely and safely report the news without fear of retribution,” Ian Phillips, AP vice president for international news, said after the arrest. “AP decries in the strongest terms the arbitrary detention of Thein Zaw.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists joined that call.
“Myanmar authorities must release all journalists being held behind bars and stop threatening and harassing reporters for merely doing their jobs of covering anti-coup street protests,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Myanmar must not return to the past dark ages where military rulers jailed journalists to stifle and censor news reporting.”
Authorities escalated their crackdown on the protesters this past weekend, carrying out mass arrests and using lethal force. Security forces shot and killed at least eight people Wednesday, according to accounts on social media and local news reports.
The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy after five decades of military rule.
In December 2017, two journalists working for the Reuters news agency were arrested while working on a story about Myanmar’s Rohingya minority. They were accused of illegally possessing official documents, although they argued that they were framed because of official opposition to their reporting.
Although their case attracted international attention, they were convicted the following year and were sentenced to seven years behind bars. They were freed in 2019 in a mass presidential pardon.