Arrest of journalists a litmus test for how Thailand treats those fleeing persecution in Myanmar

CNN Business  — 

Three senior reporters who fled Myanmar for Thailand after the brutal military coup “face certain arrest and persecution” if they are deported following their arrest in Chiang Mai on Sunday, journalist groups say.

The three are prominent journalists with the independent Burmese news agency Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and were detained in the northern Thai city after a random police search, their editor said in a statement Monday.

They, along with two unnamed activists, have been charged with illegally entering the country.

The case could be the biggest test yet for how Thailand decides to treat those fleeing persecution from Myanmar in the wake of the coup.

“DVB strongly urges the Thai authorities to not deport them back to Burma, as their life will be in serious danger if they were to return,” said Aye Chan Naing, executive director and chief editor of DVB, who used another name for Myanmar.

“They have been covering the demonstrations in Burma until March 8 — the day the military authority revoked DVB’s TV license and banned DVB from doing any kind of media work.”

Thailand Police Captain Duangrit Wannarit, who filed the charges, told CNN Business the five arrested were Burmese passport holders and had not gone through the immigration system.

On Tuesday, a Chiang Mai court adjourned the case until May 17 so the five could seek legal representation, Duangrit said. They will be held at the San Sai district police station until the hearing.

As well as being charged for allegedly entering the country illegally, Duangrit said the “prosecutor will consider if they have also breached the communicable disease act.”

Duangrit declined to give more details, saying it was a “highly sensitive” case. However, he told CNN Business the five would not be sent back to Myanmar immediately after the court proceedings, and would remain in the custody of immigration police.

Thailand’s foreign ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said in a tweet Tuesday “Thai authorities concerned are coordinating to find humanitarian solution(s) to the recent case of journalists from Myanmar.”

In this photo released by the San Sai District Administrative Office, a Thai officer checks the temperature of journalists working for Democratic Voice of Burma, at San Sai District in Chiang Mai province north of Thailand Sunday, May 9, 2021.

100 days since coup

Tuesday marks 100 days since Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup on February 1, ousting the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Since then, the military junta has brutally cracked down on any perceived opposition to its rule. Mass street protests have been suppressed with deadly force, with more than 780 people killed by security forces and almost 5,000 arrested, according to advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The junta, led by Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, has attempted to silence independent media. Journalists across the country have been attacked and detained merely for doing their jobs. More than 80 reporters have been arrested since the coup, with more than half of those still in detention as of May 3, according to a statement from Western embassies in Myanmar.

The military has also revoked the licenses of prominent independent broadcasters, online news outlets and newspapers, including DVB, so working for them is considered illegal. On May 4, the junta banned the use of satellite dishes — an order aimed at DVB and banned independent news agency Mizzima, which continued to broadcast by satellite into the country.