Friday, October 21, 2016
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

Journalist deported after covering press freedom rally

An Australian journalist working for Democratic Voice of Burma was last week deported from Myanmar, after Magwe immigration authorities deemed him to be in breach of his business visa for covering a protest.

Reporter Angus Watson was covering a press freedom rally in Magwe where attendees called for the release of DVB reporter Zaw Pe, who is serving a one-year sentence for trespass and "disturbing an on-duty civil servant" in 2012.

Director of Immigration for Magwe Region U Tun Wai said that Mr Watson had participated in the protest, and his activities constituted a violation of his business visa.

Speaking to The Myanmar Times prior to his departure from Yangon airport on May 8, Mr Watson said he attended the protest in order to file a story for DVB. "I was not protesting. I was covering the rally,” he said.

Magwe authorities came to Mr Watson's hotel following the rally and a representative accompanied him on the bus ride back to Yangon. After arriving early on May 8 Mr Watson was taken to the DVB office in Tarmwe township before being moved to an immigration department office in Sanchaung township, where he was held for about four hours as the decision to deport him was finalised.

U Tun Wai said his office had then informed union-level immigration officials in Nay Pyi Taw of their decision to deport him.

When contacted by The Myanmar Times, immigration officials in the capital declined to comment on the deportation and said questions on the matter should be directed to the Magwe authorities.

The deportation of the reporter comes amid accusations of a tightening of restrictions on foreign journalists that some believe is linked to coverage of conflict in Rakhine State.

In early February, the Ministry of Information announced that foreign journalists would in future be issued one-month single-entry visas rather than the three months given previously.

The changes also required journalists to give more information when applying for a visa, including details on what they plan to write about and where they will travel.

At a journalism conference in March, Deputy Minister for Information U Ye Htut defended the decision as a necessary “adjustment”.

He said the change was not a “rollback” of reforms but was needed because a large number of journalists had overstayed their visas following last year’s World Economic Forum and Southeast Asian Games.

“We are just adjusting the policy,” U Ye Htut told journalists gathered in Yangon for the East-West Center’s International Media Conference on March 10.