By Aung Hla Tun
YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar authorities have arrested up to 50 people including journalists, political activists and students in a security crackdown this month in its biggest city, a Thailand-based human rights group said on Friday.
The arrests include 10 journalists along with a number of opponents to Myanmar’s ruling military junta, said Bo Kyi, co-founder of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a group of former detainees who track those behind bars.
“It’s not clear why they were arrested. Their families were not given an explanation,” said Bo Kyi.
Witnesses said the arrests coincide with a tightening of security across Yangon in recent days with a larger police presence on streets, more security check-points, police car-searches and tougher security at Buddhist monasteries.
Two years ago, the junta suspected monks of coordinating the biggest pro-democracy protests in 20 years, leading to a crackdown in which at least 31 people were killed.
At least seven people including two journalists were arrested by police and military intelligence officials at their homes around midnight on Tuesday, family and friends told Reuters.
They included Thant Zin Soe, an editor of local private weekly magazine, and Paing Soe Oo, a freelance reporter. The other five are university students in Yangon.
The seven are members of “Linlat Kyei,” a group which helps survivors of last year’s Cyclone Nargis, which killed nearly 140,000 people.
“We just don’t know why they were arrested and their present whereabouts,” said one source in Yangon, who asked not to be identified in fear of reprisals.
New York-based press watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Paing Soe Oo’s arrest and called for his immediate release, saying his arrest undermined the former Burma’s claims of moving toward democracy.
“Burma’s military government claims to be moving toward democracy, yet it continues to routinely arrest and detain journalists,” Shawn Crispin, the group’s senior Southeast Asia representative, said in a statement.
The crackdown comes ahead of a U.S. fact-finding delegation expected soon in Myanmar as part of an exploratory dialogue with the junta following the Obama administration’s announcement in September it would pursue deeper engagement with Myanmar’s military rulers to try to spur democratic reform.
New elections are scheduled for next year under the final stages of a seven-step “roadmap to democracy” drawn up by the junta. A new constitution guaranteeing the army control of the country was passed in a heavily criticized referendum last year.