Myanmar is intensifying oppression on its media through threats, harassment and even prosecutions and detentions in the run up to the country’s national election, according to an Amnesty International Report released on Wednesday.
According to the 26-page report, titled “Caught between state censorship and self-censorship: Persecution and intimidation of media workers in Burma,” journalists are under psychological and physical pressure due to being as they are threatened with dismissal if they publish negative stories.
Myanmar’s government has intensified restrictions on freedom of expression, with more than 10 media workers being sent to jail and awaiting trial for 12 months.
“Journalists play such a crucial role around elections. They can help improve access to information, help people understand the choices they have to make,” Rupert Abbott, Amnesty research director for Southeast Asia, told VOA.
“The role of journalists, the role of freedom of expression around elections, really is crucial,” he added.
After President Thein Sein won Myanmar’s election in 2011 a transition from the military regime to a democratic regime was begun, giving hope that there would be press freedom in the country following a series of democratic reforms promised by the government.
Sein put his signature to many reforms ending media censorship, such as the abolition of the requirement to submit articles to the state censor prior to publishing. Following this, electronic and print media opened up. However, the government then began to prosecute and detain media workers for allegedly offensive opinions expressed in their articles.
"What we are seeing in Myanmar today is repression dressed up as progress," said Abbot.
"Authorities are still relying on the same old tactics such as arrests, surveillance, threats and jail time to muzzle those journalists who cover 'inconvenient' topics," he added.
In January 2014, journalists from the Unity weekly newspaper published an article about a secret chemical factory which was built on farmland nationalised by the by the government in Magwe Region, central Myanmar.
Following the report Tint San and four journalists - Lu Maw Naing, Yarzar Oo, Paing Thet Kyaw and Sithu Soe - were detained on allegations of disclosing state secrets, trespassing and taking photos of a restricted area.
Thirty-year-old freelance journalist Aung Kyaw Naing was also arrested last year in September over her coverage of the conflict between Malaysian troops and ethnic Karen fighters in Mon State, near the country’s border with Thailand.
Aung, was shot and killed in October 2014 after he tried to escape custody, according to reports from Myanmar’s armed forces. However the details surrounding his death have remained a mystery despite the official announcement by the army.
This year in May Myanmar's navy arrested journalists who tried to reach a remote island and take photos of more than 700 stranded migrants, mostly from the persecuted Rohingya minority, after their ship was found drifting off the country's southwestern coast.
Information Minister and Presidential spokesman Ye Htut rejected Amnesty International’s claims.
"We usually don't pay attention to such statements by international organisations because they focus solely on freedom of expression."
Htut said that as the country is making a transition to democracy, the media should take responsibility and follow ethics along with making use of its freedom.
According to a 2015 report by the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) ,Myanmar ranks 144 out of 180 countries with respect to press freedom as the country’s ranking was 151th in 2013 and 169th in 2012.