YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – Thein Zaw, a journalist for The Associated Press who was arrested more than three weeks ago while covering a protest against the coup in Myanmar, was released from detention on Wednesday.
As he left a court hearing, Thein Zaw told the AP by phone that the judge in his case had announced that all charges against him were being dropped because he was doing his job at the time of his arrest. He also called his family.
“I’m looking forward to meeting my family members,” he said. “I’m sorry for some colleagues who are still in prison.”
Thein Zaw had been charged with violating a public order law that carries a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment.
He was one of nine media workers taken into custody during a Feb. 27 street protest in Yangon, the country’s largest city, and had been held without bail. About 40 journalists have been detained or charged since the Feb. 1 coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, roughly half of whom remain behind bars.
They are among thousands of people who have been arrested since the takeover, many of them protesters. On Wednesday, more than 600 demonstrators were released.
The AP and many press freedom organizations have called for the release of Thein Zaw and the other detained members of the press.
“The Associated Press is deeply relieved that AP journalist Thein Zaw has been freed from prison in Myanmar,” said Ian Phillips, AP vice president for international news. “Our relief is tempered by the fact that additional journalists there remain detained. We urge Myanmar to release all journalists and allow them to report freely and safely on what is happening inside the country.”
Thein Zaw was arrested as he was photographing police, some of them armed, charging down a street at anti-coup protesters. A video shows that although he stepped to the side of the street to get out of their way, several police rushed over and surrounded him. One put him in a chokehold as he was handcuffed and then taken away.
He had been kept at Yangon’s Insein Prison, notorious for decades for holding political prisoners.
Thein Zaw’s lawyer, Tin Zar Oo, saw her client for the first time since his arrest at a hearing on March 12 at which his pre-trial detention was renewed – and even then it was through a video link.
The International Press Institute, headquartered in Vienna, welcomed the release of Thein Zaw, who it said “was detained for doing his job as a journalist and should never have been behind bars in the first place.”
“Myanmar must now immediately release all other journalists it is holding,” said Scott Griffen, the institute’ deputy director. “The military junta must stop all forms of harassment and intimidation of media covering demonstrations against the coup and end restrictions on publication and broadcasting by media outlets in the country.”
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