Myanmar courts extend detention of AP journalist, five others

(Reuters) - A court in Myanmar extended custody on Friday for five journalists, including one from U.S. news agency the Associated Press, who were arrested while covering anti-junta protests in the biggest city of Yangon last month, a lawyer said.

More than 70 people have been killed and about 2,000 arrested in a crackdown on protests since Myanmar’s military took power in a coup on Feb. 1, advocacy body the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says.

The six journalists, all arrested on Feb. 27, were not brought to court but attended the hearing via teleconference from prison. They have not been allowed to see their families or lawyers in person since the arrest.

Lawyer Tin Zar Oo said the case of her client, Thein Zaw of the Associated Press, and four others, would next be heard on March 24.

“He seems OK, but he said he has asthma, so he is a bit uncomfortable,” she said, speaking of Thein Zaw. “His family members got to talk to him.”

Another court extended detention until March 25 for a sixth journalist, from Myanmar Now, the group’s editor-in-chief, Swe Win, said.

Court officials did not comment.

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The U.S. state department has voiced concern at the arrests and urged the immediate release of the journalists.

Authorities in Myanmar have raided the offices of four independent news organisations during the last few days. The government has also stripped the licences of five organisations that have been active in covering the protests.

At least 35 journalists have been arrested since the Feb. 1 coup, Myanmar Now reported, of whom 19 have been released.

A junta spokesman told a news conference on Thursday that the military respected and valued press freedom but that the arrested journalists were provoking unrest.

Reporting by Reuters staff; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Clarence Fernandez