YANGON, Myanmar — Three detained journalists appeared in a Myanmar court on Wednesday to face charges filed against them by the Yangon regional government, which alleges a story they published was false.
An increasing number of journalists have been arrested and jailed for their work under Myanmar's civilian government, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner.
The senior journalists for local Eleven Media Group were arrested Oct. 9 after publishing a story alleging fund mismanagement by Yangon government officials.
A director in the Yangon government filed a complaint saying the journalists — editor in chief Kyaw Zaw Lin, managing editor Nari Min and chief reporter Phyo Wai Win — violated a law banning publication of "incorrect information" that could cause "fear or alarm to the public." Punishment under the law can include two years' imprisonment and a fine.
Human Rights Watch called for the charges to be withdrawn.
"By arresting these three journalists for simply doing their job to investigate and report on possible Yangon municipal malfeasance, the Myanmar government shows how little it respects freedom of the press," said Phil Robertson, the human rights group's deputy Asia director. "Democracy is in deep trouble in Myanmar if officials can get reporters tossed in prison any time they ask a tough question. The government should order the prosecutor to withdraw the charges, and cease its harassment of the media."
Journalists from Eleven Media have been arrested in the past for investigating corruption by high-ranking politicians. In 2016, its chief executive and chief editor were detained after publishing an opinion piece on corrupt officials. Those charges were eventually dropped.
Recent jailings of journalists in Myanmar include Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were sentenced to seven years in prison earlier this year. They had been reporting on the military's operations against minority Rohingya Muslims and were accused of possessing secret documents.
"The decline of press freedom in Myanmar is alarming," said Matthew Smith, the head of human rights group Fortify Rights. "With each imprisoned journalist, the authorities dig the country deeper into an authoritarian pit."
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay could not be reached for comment.
The next court appearance for the three Eleven Media journalists is expected on Oct. 26, when the Yangon government complainant, Kyaw Aung Khaing, is required to produce the original government documents that were written about in the Eleven Media story.