The first of the journalists to be arrested, Nathan Maung, is the editor in chief of the news outlet Kamayut Media. He was taken along with Hanthar Nyein, a news producer, in a raid on the outlet’s newsroom in Yangon on March 9 — one of a series of actions against independent media in the first weeks after the Feb. 1 coup. According to an account supplied to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mr. Maung and his colleague were taken to an interrogation center, where they were badly beaten and burned with cigarettes on their bellies, thighs and buttocks. While being questioned, they were made to kneel on ice with their hands cuffed behind them, CPJ was told. They have been charged with spreading “fake news,” an offense that can be punished by up to three years in prison.
U.S. diplomats have since been granted access to Mr. Maung at Insein Prison, which is known for its warehousing of political prisoners in inhumane conditions. But as of this week, no outside contact had been allowed to Danny Fenster, the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar. Mr. Fenster, 37, was arrested at the Yangon airport on May 24 as he was preparing to board a flight out of the country. All that is known about him is that he, too, is being held at Insein Prison. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that U.S. Embassy officials had been denied access to him, in violation of the Vienna Convention.
Both U.S. journalists have been working to cover events in Myanmar, also known as Burma, since the military overthrew the democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. There has been much to report: a civil disobedience movement that has shut down much of the economy, and vicious repression that has killed more than 800 civilians and imprisoned more than 4,000, according to counts by human rights groups. It’s virtually impossible to cover those events without crossing the generals, who have ordered local outlets not to use words such as “coup,” “junta” or “regime.”
Mr. Blinken and other senior State Department officials have strongly protested the arrests, as have members of Congress. “We are pressing this in every way that we can,” Mr. Blinken said at a House hearing Monday. Rhetoric won’t be enough; U.S. measures should include sanctions directed at anyone involved in the arrest and imprisonment of the journalists. Though sanctions have already been applied to senior officials and military-run companies, more must be done to stop the flow of foreign income to the regime, especially for energy exports. The arrest of foreign journalists is just one more sign that Myanmar’s military will respect no human rights norms or international laws in seeking to consolidate power. The democratic world must respond accordingly.