BBC journalist freed in Myanmar as EU slaps sanctions on junta

Germany condemns violence against protesters, who take to streets in fresh rallies

Below: Mr Aung Thura, a journalist with the BBC's Burmese service, had been detained by men in plain clothes while reporting outside a court in Myanmar's capital Naypyitaw on Friday. The broadcaster confirmed yesterday in a news story on its website
Residents releasing balloons with messages relating to “R2P”, or the “responsibility to protect” principle that justifies the international community taking collective action if a state fails to protect its own population from atrocities, in Yangon’s Hlaing township yesterday. Myanmar’s junta has unleashed deadly violence on protesters who have risen against the military’s ousting of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi last month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Below: Mr Aung Thura, a journalist with the BBC's Burmese service, had been detained by men in plain clothes while reporting outside a court in Myanmar's capital Naypyitaw on Friday. The broadcaster confirmed yesterday in a news story on its website
Mr Aung Thura, a journalist with the BBC's Burmese service, had been detained by men in plain clothes while reporting outside a court in Myanmar's capital Naypyitaw on Friday. The broadcaster confirmed yesterday in a news story on its website that he has been freed but gave no further details.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

YANGON • A BBC journalist held in Myanmar has been freed, the broadcaster said yesterday, as demonstrators took to the streets in fresh anti-coup protests against the military.

Myanmar's junta has unleashed deadly violence on protesters who have risen against the military's ousting of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi last month.

The crackdown has drawn international condemnation, and the European Union imposed sanctions on 11 junta officials yesterday, with Germany condemning the level of violence as "completely unacceptable".

More than 2,600 people have been arrested and 250 killed since the Feb 1 coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local monitoring group that has warned fatalities could be even higher.

Mr Aung Thura, a journalist with the BBC's Burmese service, had been detained by men in plain clothes while reporting outside a court in the capital Naypyitaw last Friday.

The broadcaster confirmed yesterday in a news story on its website that he has been freed but gave no further details.

A second journalist detained at the same time, Mr Than Htike Aung from local media outlet Mizzima, was still in custody.

The junta has sought to stem the flow of news about the protests and crackdown, revoking the licences of independent local media outlets - including Mizzima - raiding newsrooms and arresting journalists.

Scores of people, including teachers, marched yesterday through the pre-dawn streets of Mandalay, the country's second-largest city, some carrying placards calling for United Nations intervention in the crisis.

Mandalay has seen some of the worst violence in the crackdown and recorded eight more deaths on Sunday, a medical source told Agence France-Presse, adding that as many as 50 were injured. Machine gun fire rang out late into the night across the city of 1.7 million.

"People were really scared and felt insecure the whole night," a doctor told AFP by phone.

To protest against the brutality of the crackdown, a group of doctors in Mandalay staged a "placard only" demonstration by lining up signs in the street, Voice of Myanmar reported.

There were also early-morning protests in parts of Yangon, the commercial capital and largest city, where drivers honked their horns in support of the anti-coup movement.

Residents in Yangon's Hlaing township released hundreds of red helium balloons with posters calling for UN intervention to stop atrocities, according to local media.

International concern has been growing over the junta's brutal approach as the death toll climbs, with a senior UN expert warning that the military is likely committing "crimes against humanity".

But so far the generals have shown little sign of heeding calls for restraint as they struggle to quell the unrest.

In a fresh bid to step up pressure, the European Union hit 11 junta cadres with sanctions - in the form of travel bans and asset freezes. The United States and Britain have already taken similar steps.

As EU foreign ministers gathered in Brussels to sign off on the sanctions, Germany's Mr Heiko Maas said the violence must stop. "The number of murders has reached an unbearable level, and that is why we will not be able to avoid imposing sanctions," he told reporters.

Myanmar's regional neighbours have also weighed in, with Indonesia and Malaysia calling for an emergency summit of the 10-country Asean to discuss the crisis.

On the commercial front, French energy giant Electricite de France announced that a US$1.5 billion (S$2 billion) hydropower dam project in Myanmar had been suspended in response to the coup.

Australia and Canada have meanwhile confirmed they are providing consular assistance to two business consultants detained in Myanmar.

It is understood that Australian Matthew O'Kane and Ms Christa Avery, a dual Canadian-Australian citizen, are under house arrest after trying to leave the country on a relief flight last Friday. The couple run a consultancy business in Yangon.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2021, with the headline 'BBC journalist freed in Myanmar as EU slaps sanctions on junta'. Subscribe