Photographer arrested for uploading Facebook satire mocking Myanmar's military

YANGON (AFP) - A freelance photojournalist has been arrested in Myanmar for uploading a satirical post on Facebook mocking the country's powerful military, relatives said on Saturday.

Mr Aung Nay Myo, 37, was taken from his house in Monywa town, central Sagaing region on Friday morning.

"First they came to search for drugs at his photo studio. When they couldn't find any drugs, they took... his belongings including his diary, laptop, memory sticks and CCTV equipment," a family member, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

He was later taken to Monywa prison and charged under an emergency provision that forbids traducing the government or military, and carries up to seven years in jail. "We cannot get bail for him under this emergency provision act. His mother was able to meet him yesterday evening at the prison. We are now trying to get a lawyer for him," the relative said.

A Special Branch police complaint letter seen by AFP accuses the photographer and an unspecified group of trying to destroy the reputation of the government in the early hours of Friday morning.

The complaint centres around a photoshopped flyer for a film about a fierce battle fought in the early 1970s between Myanmar's military and rebels in eastern Shan state.

The faces of the actors had been replaced by key government and military officials including current army chief Min Aung Hlaing, Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, Information Minister Ye Htut and hardline Buddhist-nationalist monk Wirathu.

Former junta leader Than Shwe and current President Then Sein also had writing credits on the mocked-up poster. The name of the film had been tweaked to make a sexual pun.

Myanmar army units are currently engaged in fierce fighting with predominantly ethnic Kokang rebels that has killed dozens in the past fortnight and sent tens of thousands fleeing.

The fighting is taking place in the same region the movie poster references.

Myanmar last week declared a state of emergency in Kokang in response to the conflict, which began on Feb 9 and has also sparked alarm in neighbouring China, where many refugees have fled.

After decades of brutal junta rule, Myanmar's military handed power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011, which has ushered in a new era of political openness in the emerging Southeast Asian nation.

But the international community has also expressed rising alarm that the country is backsliding in key areas of its democratic transition, particularly press freedom and human rights.