The professional membership of the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club (TFCC) condemns the Myanmar junta’s diabolical crackdown against press freedom and journalists in the strongest possible terms.
According to a BBC Burmese report published on August 30, photojournalist Ko Soe Naing has been presumed dead for nearly 20 months after an interrogation by the security forces in late 2021. He was arrested by the Burmese military regime alongside another photojournalist Ko Zaw Tun. Based on Ko Zaw Tun’s account, Ko Soe Naing was heard being beaten to death by soldiers during an interrogation, but his family wasn’t able to retrieve his body. Ko Soe Naing left behind his wife and a five-year-old son.
This represents the latest barbaric act in one of Asia’s darkest episodes for media workers. Myanmar’s generals launched a coup d’état to overthrow the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, and has sought to kill off the free press. The junta banned or raided a range of independent outlets, imposed a censorship system on the internet, imprisoned and killed journalists, and restricted access by foreign reporters.
The TFCC notes with grave concern the warnings raised by Myanmar’s news outlets, civil society groups and business chambers regarding the junta’s violent crackdown against freedom of expression and the shared space between the media, civil society and the private sector.
We see that President Tsai Ing-wen’s government has repeatedly issued criticisms against the junta’s bloodbath, and voiced support for the National Unity Government, a revolutionary government set up by elected and ousted Burmese lawmakers.
The TFCC calls on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is set to convene a regional summit this coming week, to recognize the gravity of the atrocities perpetrated by the Burmese junta, and to hold the regime accountable for their oppression, including arrests and acts of violence against media workers.
Ko Soe Naing’s death marks part of the trend of regression in the wider region, where governments in China, Hong Kong and elsewhere detain media professionals such as CGTN reporter Cheng Lei, Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, Taiwan-based publisher Li Yanhe, and journalist-turned-politician Gwyneth Ho. Journalists in Myanmar and other parts of Asia who have been imprisoned or killed simply for doing their job should not be overlooked by the international community.
The TFCC also condemns the Burmese junta’s hijacking of the Myanmar Press Council. The regime appointed their own men, instead of allowing members to elect their representatives. We welcome the recent establishment of the Independent Myanmar Journalists Association and are looking forward to working with them.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Myanmar became the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists in 2021, after China, and has remained among the worst to this day. Reporters without Borders has rightly branded the junta as a regime that “openly promotes a policy of terror towards journalists who do not toe the junta’s line.”
The TFCC strongly urges Taiwan’s government to provide a safe shelter for Myanmar journalists in danger, including those in Thailand who are at risk of being deported, as well as those from China, Hong Kong and beyond.
With the ongoing persecution against freedom of expression and the general population, the military regime’s planned “election” will be neither free nor fair. The TFCC therefore asks President Tsai, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Taiwanese government to clearly state their concerns and reject the outcome of this sham election.
September 3, 2023