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Myanmar authorities should stop using criminal laws, website blocks, and licensing delays to severely restrict the two ethnic Rakhine media outlets in Rakhine State.

The authorities have filed charges against Aung Marm Oo, chief editor of Development Media Group (DMG), under the rights-abusing Unlawful Associations Act, blocked access to the outlet’s English and Burmese language webpages, and failed to act on DMG’s application to renew the publishing license for its bimonthly print journal. Narinjara News, the only other ethnic Rakhine media outlet, has also been blocked since March.

“The Myanmar authorities’ relentless harassment of ethnic Rakhine news outlets is an outrageous assault on media freedom and the right to information,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Asia legal adviser. “The authorities should immediately drop the baseless charges against DMG’s chief editor, renew the company’s publishing license, and unblock the websites of both DMG and Narinjara News.”

Because of fighting in Rakhine State and the increasing Covid-19 cases in the state capital, Sittwe, and surrounding areas, timely and accurate information about local conditions is crucial. The government restrictions on DMG and Narinjara News are an unjustifiable interference with media freedom and the right to information. The general election scheduled for November 8, 2020, heightens concerns about the media blackout.

On May 1, 2019, Aung Marm Oo learned that the Myanmar police had filed charges against him under section 17(2) of the Unlawful Associations Act, which provides a penalty of up to five years in prison for anyone who “manages or assists in the management of an unlawful association, or promotes or assists in promoting a meeting of any such association, or of any members thereof.”

Aung Marm Oo, who has been in hiding since learning of the case, said that the police never provided him with any written notice detailing the grounds for the charges. He believes the charges are linked to the media group’s legitimate reporting on the conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army ethnic armed group.

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