On World Press Freedom Day on Tuesday, Myanmarese news organisation Mizzima denied the Indian government’s claim that seven Myanmarese nationals who had come to New Delhi in May 2021 to seek the protection of the United Nations were untraceable.

“We would like to clarify that the said seven Myanmar citizens…were four adults and three minor children,” the organisation’s editor-in-chief, Soe Myint, said.

He added: “We would like to state that the Mizzima members and their dependents had reported to the Vikaspuri Police Station in New Delhi, India, on their arrival and thereafter were given the protection of the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and have been staying in Delhi without incident.”

High Court proceedings

In March 2021, after the military took over power from the elected Myanmarese government, seven media houses, including Mizzima, were declared illegal. Many of its journalists fled the country.

Four Mizzima journalists and their families came to India without proper documentation. In April, they filed a petition before the Manipur High Court asking for a safe passage to Delhi, where they would seek protection from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The High Court allowed them to go to Delhi. It said that the state and Central governments “shall facilitate their travel to New Delhi and shall not cause any obstruction”. It also asked lawyer Nandita Haksar, who had filed the case on behalf of the seven Myanmarese nationals, to arrange for air tickets and stay for them and to ensure that they register their “names, local addresses and whereabouts” at the appropriate police station, pending consideration of their claims before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

It said that non-refoulment, the principle of not turning back an asylum seeker who faces a threat to life in her home country, could be read under Article 21 of the Constitution. It also ruled that these journalists were not “migrants” but “asylum seekers” as they entered India due to an “imminent threat to their life and liberty”.

Government’s claim

The Central government challenged the Manipur High Court’s decision. On April 25, it told the Supreme Court that “the concerned persons are not traceable”. The Supreme Court stayed the High Court’s order in case it had not been acted upon by the authorities and it said that the lawyer for the seven Myanmarese would be responsible for “producing them before the concerned authority”.

The case is next scheduled for May 6.

“We would like to thank India for the support it has given Mizzima since the early days when we started in Delhi in 1998 and for giving shelter to Mizzima staff during the present crisis,” the news organisation said. “We have always thought of ourselves as friends of India and that is why we were shocked that anyone should think we would harm Indian interests.”

Also read: Despite being arrested and assaulted, Myanmar journalists say they won’t be intimidated by army

Man on a mission: How Soe Myint went from being a hijacker in India to a media tycoon in Myanmar

A lawyer’s diary: How I fought for justice for 7 Myanmarese refugees in the midst of the pandemic