Fears for three Myanmar journalists taken by military

Yangon (AFP) - Fears were mounting on Tuesday for three Myanmar journalists who are being interrogated by the military after they were detained under a restrictive junta-era law for reporting on an ethnic armed group.

The three were stopped as they travelled back from a drugs-burning ceremony organised by the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in the eastern state of Shan to mark the UN's anti-drug trafficking day.

They included reporters from The Irrawaddy and DVB, two publications that for years challenged the then-junta with their independent reporting from outside the country.

"They are under interrogation," ministry of information spokesman Ye Naing told AFP.

"Based on the result of their interrogation, we have to consider how to proceed," he added, declining to give any more details.

The military said on Monday they were stopped near Phayargyi village in Namhsham township. A TNLA source on Tuesday confirmed they were still being held in the area.

They may now face charges under the Unlawful Associations Act, a law used by the former military government to silence dissent during its half-century in power.

The legislation, which carries a maximum three-year prison sentence, was regularly used against anyone who made contact with the armed insurgent groups which have been fighting the state for decades.

The latest arrests were widely condemned, with the US embassy in Yangon expressing "concern" for the reporters and adding that a "free press is essential to Myanmar's success".

"Their arrests send a chilling message to Myanmar's already embattled media," said Amnesty International's director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, James Gomez.

Myanmar Journalists Association called for "prompt measures" to be taken to ensure the three men are freed.

The arrests come amid a groundswell of activism among Myanmar's journalists aimed at quashing a controversial online defamation law which critics say is being used to stifle press freedom.

Pressure has mounted since last month, when the army sued the editor in chief of The Voice and a satirist for uploading a link to an article poking fun at the military's leaders.

The reporter has been released but the editor, Kyaw Min Swe, is being prosecuted under a broadly-worded telecommunications law which forbids the uploading of false of defamatory information.

Prosections under the law have surged since Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy came to power last year, with social media satirists, activists and journalists increasingly targeted.