Ross Dunkley, the publisher of The Phnom Penh Post, has been arrested by Myanmar authorities in Yangon on suspicion of violating the country’s immigration laws.
In a statement on Saturday, David Armstrong, chairman of Post Media Ltd, said Dunkley, who is also CEO and editor-in-chief of the weekly Myanmar Times, was arrested on Thursday under Section 13(1) of Myanmar’s Immigration (Emergency Provisions) Act after returning from a business trip to Japan.
Armstrong expressed “deep concern” over the arrest, which he said was linked to recent talks between Dunkley and Burmese shareholders over the direction of the publication.
“A key point about the arrest is timing,” Armstrong said. “It coincides with tense and protracted discussions Mr Dunkley and the foreign ownership partners in the Myanmar Times have been conducting with local partners.”
He said the disagreements had concerned “ownership issues and senior leadership roles”.
Armstrong said Dunkley, 55, is being held at Yangon’s Insein prison and is due in court for a hearing on February 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,” he said.
Moun Ramady, CEO of Post Media Ltd, said he was concerned about Dunkley’s well-being, but declined to comment in detail due to the ongoing investigation.
“Our business will be running as usual,” he said.
Min Sein, Dunkley’s lawyer, could not be reached.
The Myanmar Times is published by Myanmar Consolidated Media Group Ltd, the only media organisation in military-ruled Myanmar that has foreign investors.
According to reports, Dunkley holds a 49 percent stake in the company, with the remaining 51 percent held by Tin Tun Oo, a member of the state-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.
A major shareholder in MCM is Bill Clough, an Australian mining magnate who is also the CEO of Twinza Oil, which in 2006 signed a US$30 million deal to explore oil reserves off Myanmar’s southern coast.
Clough is also an investor in The Phnom Penh Post.
Aung Zaw, editor and founder of The Irrawaddy magazine, a Thailand-based exile publication, said it was hard to speculate about the causes of Dunkley’s arrest, but added that early information indicated it was indeed related to an attempt to force him to relinquish his stake in the paper.
He said the foreign owners of the paper had been under particular pressure since 2008, when the Times was ordered to suspend publication for a week after it ran an unauthorised article about a government decision to raise satellite television fees.
Aung Zaw said he long suspected the paper’s local partners would seek to oust its foreign investors.
The Myanmar Times was set up in 2000 as a joint venture between Dunkley and Sonny Swe, the son of Brigadier General Thein Shwe, a close ally of then-Prime Minister Khin Nyunt.
After Khin Nyunt’s arrest during a government power struggle in 2004, Swe was jailed for 14 years on charges for violating censorship regulations and his shares were transferred to Tin Tun Oo, according to reports in The Irrawaddy.
Thirteen journalists were in jail in Myanmar as of December 1, making it “one of the five worst jailers of journalists in the world”, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The Australian Embassy in Yangon has not responded to queries.