DVB reporter Khun Zaw Oo was engaged in a labor rights investigation when he was taken into custody in Lashio for driving an unlicensed car.
A Lashio-based journalist is charged with violating Burma’s import-export law after being detained while reporting on workers rights in northern Shan State.
Democratic Voice of Burma reporter Khun Zaw Oo was working on a story about salaries being denied to construction workers employed by the Gold Luck Water Park. He went to interview U Ye Naing, the owner of the water park on July 22, who detained him in his compound and called the police.
On the same day, Khun Zaw Oo had posted on his Facebook account that workers from Gold Luck Water Park had reported their case to the local labor office.
“When we entered his garden, he asked, ‘Who posted my name on Facebook?’” freelance reporter Ma Myat Moe Thu told SHAN, referring to U Ye Naing. She was with Khun Zaw Oo for the interview of the company head. “After that, he ordered his staff to close the garden. He threatened Khun Zaw Oo, saying, ‘I will prosecute you and put you in prison.’”
Ma Myat Moe Thu said that U Ye Naing did not allow any video recording or photos, despite a prior agreement that he would be interviewed.
“I could only record his voice with a tape recorder,” she said.
During the interview, traffic police came to the house. U Ye Naing asked them to check whether the car belonging to the journalists had an official license.
“We already knew that our car didn’t have an official license. So I told police that they didn’t need to check our car. After that, I gave the car key to the police,” Ma Myat Moe Thu said.
Khun Zaw Oo was arrested and charged with violating the import-export law on July 28, for having a car that was not registered, and which authorities assumed was imported illegally.
“I think they are threatening all correspondents—it’s not related to our news report. As journalists, we are really suffering,” Ma Myat Moe Thu told SHAN.
Locals estimate that some 80 percent of cars in Shan State are not officially licensed. Last year a Shan Nationalities Democracy Party MP Sai Noung, of Mong Pan, proposed that unlicensed cars be allowed to officially register, so that people could protect their property and livelihoods. The move was voted down.
“There are many unlicensed cars in Shan State but the people are not in the wrong—it is because there has been a lack of rule of law in the country under various consecutive governments,” he said at the time.