Myanmar’s military government has revoked the publication license for The Irrawaddy, an exile media outlet that has reported in detail on the junta’s atrocities and brutal repression of anti-regime protesters since the February 2021 coup.
According to the newspaper’s own report about the ban, published Monday, the deregistration was “the latest in a series of lawsuits, raids, arrests, and other moves targeting the independent news agency since the coup last year.”
The Ministry of Information justified the move, which took effect on October 26, on the grounds of “state security, rule of law, and public tranquility,” The Irrawaddy reported, citing a ministry statement that was published in state-run media on Saturday.
It is something of a miracle that the military administration hadn’t 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 outlets, driving its reporters and editors either underground or into 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 detention on vague political charges.
Indeed, the military junta has so far done just about everything but revoke the news site’s license. Shortly after toppling the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, the junta blocked The Irrawaddy’s website inside 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 blossoming across the country.
Monday’s article stated that the Ministry of Information’s statement “was the first to publicly acknowledge its efforts to clamp down on The Irrawaddy, though it has taken several unannounced actions against the news agency since the coup.” Ye Ni, the executive editor of The Irrawaddy’s Burmese language section, told the U.S.-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia that the ban was yet another example of “the many tragedies affecting Myanmar since the military coup.”
The publication, which was founded by Myanmar exiles in Thailand in 1993 and was based for years in Chiang Mai, before moving its operations inside the country in 2012, describes itself quite rightly as “an enemy of successive Myanmar regimes for its reporting on efforts to promote democracy, press freedom, and human rights in the country.” Although some were harshly critical of The Irrawaddy’s reporting on the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population of western Myanmar in 2016 and 2017, reflecting the equivocal position of the NLD that was then in power, there is no doubt that it has diligently and bravely cataloged the 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 the happenings in Myanmar, and its effective banning up until now, the removal of its license will have little concrete effect on its ability to disseminate information from inside the country. But it does send up another ominous signal (if one were needed) that any critical reporting on the junta is impermissible – and will be met with the full force of the junta’s distorted form of law.