Australian editor of Myanmar newspaper jailed

The Australian editor and co-owner of an English-language newspaper in Myanmar has been arrested in what an associate suggests is a business dispute.

Myanmar Times' editor-in-chief Ross Dunkley is imprisoned in Yangon's main Insein Prison for violating a section of the immigration law applying to overstaying a visa, a business partner said Saturday. The offense is punishable by a maximum jail term of two years, or a fine, or both.

David Armstrong, Dunkley's partner is a separate Cambodian newspaper venture, the Phnom Penh Post, issued a statement saying that Thursday's arrest "coincides with tense and protracted discussions ... about the future direction of the publishing group, ownership issues and senior leadership roles" he has been holding with his Myanmar business partners. He did not elaborate.

The dispute comes as Myanmar's long-ruling junta is preparing to hand over the reins of government to a new, nominally civilian government packed with its allies. With the military expected to continue to exercise power from behind the scenes, no loosening of restrictions on the press is expected. All daily newspapers and electronic media are directly controlled by the government

Dunkley is known for founding English-language newspapers, often with a business emphasis, in authoritarian countries. He started a similar venture in communist Vietnam in the 1990s and bought Cambodia's well-established but financially weak Phnom Penh Post two years ago. He founded the Myanmar Times in 2000 during a period of relative liberalization under the ruling junta. The weekly also has a Myanmar-language counterpart.

The Myanmar Times uses many professional journalism conventions — naming sources, portraying opposing sides of issues — though it generally pulls its punches when it comes to criticizing the government, which tightly restricts what is published.

Armstrong said in his statement, published on the website of the Phnom Penh Post, that Dunkley will be brought to court on Feb. 24.

"His lawyers in Yangon say Mr. Dunkley is confident he can answer any charges or allegations made against him and is looking forward to returning to lead the Myanmar Times group in the exciting times ahead for the publishers and the country," Armstrong said.