A detained former journalist who disappeared for more than a month after his arrest was sent to Mandalay’s Obo Prison on Monday, according to lawyers familiar with his case.
Zaw Zaw, 35, was out for a Saturday morning breakfast with his family when he was taken into custody on April 9.
A source who spoke to witnesses said that he was on his way to 63rd Street in Mandalay Myo Thit when he was forced to pull over by a car that had started tailing him.
“Plainclothes military intelligence officers made them stop. They started searching his car and then they took him away in handcuffs,” the source said.
He was then taken to his house in Mandalay’s Aungmyethazan Township, where soldiers confiscated his laptop and mobile phone, as well as the phones of his father and daughter.
He currently faces charges of incitement under Section 505a of the Penal Code, lawyers said. A source close to his family said that they had not been informed of the lawsuit against him.
He was reportedly held at an interrogation centre after his arrest, but it wasn’t until this week that relatives were finally able to confirm his whereabouts.
“We only recently learned that he was at Obo Prison. He’s lost so much weight. I heard that he was tortured,” said the family friend, citing prison sources.
According to the friend, Zaw Zaw quit his job as a photojournalist with The Irrawaddy, a local news outlet, more than a year ago.
“It never occurred to him to move away, because he didn’t think he had broken any rules. He was just living peacefully at his home. They didn’t even find anything when they searched his house, but they arrested him anyway,” the friend said.
Most journalists working in Mandalay and other parts of upper Myanmar have left the profession since last year’s coup due to fears of persecution by the authorities.
Despite this, however, the regime continues to round up even former reporters and editors.
On April 5, a junta-controlled court sentenced Win Naing Oo, the former chief correspondent of news organisation Channel Mandalay, to five years in prison under Section 52a of the Counterterrorism Law.
In January, Pyae Phyo Aung, the associate editor for the now defunct Zayar Times, and Myint Myat Aung, a reporter for the same outlet, each received two-year prison sentences for incitement.
“Press freedom is light years away. But it’s not just us journalists. The entire country has lost its freedom. Every business is declining with the country in their hands,” said a journalist who did not want to be named.
According to monitor groups, there are currently at least 50 journalists behind bars in Myanmar.
The junta’s spokesperson, Gen Zaw Min Tun, routinely claims that journalists are not being prosecuted for doing their jobs, but for breaking laws.