ASEAN Beat | Policy | Southeast Asia
The coup government’s information ministry said The Irrawaddy has endangered “state security, the rule of law and public tranquility.”
Myanmar’s military government has revoked the publishing license of The Irrawaddy, an exile media outlet that has reported in detail the junta’s atrocities and brutal repression of anti-regime protesters since the February 2021 coup.
According to the paper’s own report on the ban, published on Monday, the deregistration was “the latest in a series of lawsuits, raids, arrests and other actions targeting the independent news agency since the coup last year.”
The Information Ministry justified the move, which took effect on October 26, on the grounds of “state security, the rule of law and general calm,” The Irrawaddy reported, citing a ministry statement published in state media on Saturday. .
It is something of a miracle that the military administration had not done this earlier, given that The Irrawaddy has been highly critical of its rule and supportive of the anti-junta resistance, and that it has already revoked the licenses of most of the country’s independent press agencies operating its reporters and editors either underground or in exile abroad. In the 21 months since its February 2021 coup, the military has also arrested at least 142 journalists, 57 of whom remain in prison on vague political charges.
Indeed, the military junta has so far done almost everything except revoke the news site’s license. Shortly after toppling the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, the junta blocked The Irrawaddy’s website in Myanmar, raided its offices in Yangon and sued the publication for “disregarding” the military in its reporting on the anti-regime protests that were then blooming all over the country.
Monday’s article stated that the Information Ministry statement “was the first to publicly acknowledge its efforts to crack down on The Irrawaddy, although it has taken several unannounced actions against the news agency since the coup.” Ye Ni, executive editor of The Irrawaddy’s Burmese language section, told US-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia that the ban was yet another example of “the many tragedies that have befallen Myanmar since the military coup.”
The publication, which was founded by Myanmar exiles in Thailand in 1993 and was based for several years in Chiang Mai before moving its operations inland in 2012, rightly describes itself as “an enemy of successive Myanmar regimes for its reporting on efforts to promote democracy, press freedom and human rights in the country.” While some were harshly critical of The Irrawaddy’s reporting on the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population in western Myanmar in 2016 and 2017, which reflected the ambivalent stance of the NLD then in power, there is no doubt that it diligently and courageously cataloged atrocities carried out by the junta, as well as highlighting some of its more absurd behavior.
Given The Irrawaddy’s long history of underground reporting on events in Myanmar, and its effective ban until now, the removal of its license will have little tangible effect on its ability to disseminate information from within the country. But it sends another ominous signal (if one was needed) that any critical reporting of the junta is off limits – and will be met with full force by the junta’s twisted form of law.