Conflicts & War

Persecuted Myanmar journalist to seek asylum in Spain

Bangkok, May 31 (EFE).- Burmese journalist Mratt Kyaw Thu is set to seek asylum in Spain after managing to escape Myanmar, where the military junta had issued an arrest warrant against him for his coverage of protests against the Feb. 1 coup.

Mratt, who has worked as a contributor for EFE in Myanmar since October 2018, is set to travel to Madrid on Tuesday from the Frankfurt airport in Germany, where he has spent four weeks in a detention center.

“Myanmar is now an extremely dangerous country for journalists, already many have been arrested. As a journalist, if you are arrested you become nothing. We have to be free to be able to do our job,” he told EFE from a landline phone at the detention center, where he has not been allowed to use his mobile phone or access internet.

More than 80 journalists have been arrested in Myanmar since the coup – which overthrew the democratic government of Aung San Suu Kyi – and 45 of them remain in prison even as military authorities have issued arrest warrants for 22 other reporters, according to the local Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

On Apr. 5, 40-year-old Mratt’s photo appeared in official media outlets among a list of journalists wanted for violating a decree approved after the coup, which criminalizes “causing fear,” “spreading fake news” and directly or indirectly inciting a “criminal offense” against a public servant.

Analysts have warned that the executive order was approved as a pretext for arresting journalists at will, and was immediately followed by a series of arrests of media professionals and forced closures of media outlets.

Mratt, who had resorted to changing his residence every night after the coup to avoid arrest, decided to flee Yangon and for weeks hid in a border region dominated by ethnic rebels, which has provided refuge to many other journalists, politicians and activists.

After escaping from his country, the journalist – whose work as a media fact-checker had brought him a lot of prestige and visibility – traveled to Europe on a visa obtained with the help of EFE. He had been providing daily coverage of the military coup and the initial days of the protests to the agency.

In 2017, Mratt had won the Agence France-Presse Kate Webb award for his coverage of the ethnic-religious conflicts in Myanmar’s border regions.

One of the latest journalists to be arrested by Myanmar authorities is Danny Fenster, editor-in-chief of news portal Frontier Myanmar, who was detained on May 24 from the Yangon airport while he was about to board a flight to Kuala Lumpur.

The persecution by the military junta has forced most of the journalists to work clandestinely both in Myanmar and abroad, from where they keep reporting on the country’s developments through online media or social networks.

The junta has unleashed a brutal campaign of repression against the protests and a civil disobedience movement against the coup, with security forces killing at least 840 people and arresting over 5,500, according to latest figures provided by AAPP.

The military has justified the coup citing alleged fraud in the November elections, in which Suu Kyi’s party repeated its landslide victory of 2015, even though international observers gave a clean chit to the polls.


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