Medical staff are seen in Yangon, Myanmar, on May 17, 2020. Myanmar authorities recently sentenced news editor Zaw Ye Htet to prison over his outlet's COVID-19 coverage. (AFP/Sai Aung Main)

Myanmar news editor sentenced to 2 years in jail over COVID-19 report

May 22, 2020 11:45 AM ET

Bangkok, May 22, 2020 -- Myanmar authorities should immediately release jailed news editor Zaw Ye Htet and stop using vague and abusive laws against journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On May 13, authorities in eastern Karen state arrested Zaw Ye Htet, chief editor of the privately owned Dae Pyaw online news agency, after his publication reported there had been a coronavirus death in the state, according to news reports. The report later proved to be inaccurate, according to those reports.

On May 20, a Karen state court sentenced Zaw Ye Htet to two years in prison under Article 505(b) of the penal code, which bars the dissemination of information that could “cause fear or alarm to the public,” reports said.

The journalist plans to appeal the “unfair” decision, according to those news reports.

“Journalists should never be jailed for their news reporting, particularly during a global health emergency,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Zaw Ye Htet should be freed immediately, and authorities should stop using legal threats to stifle news reporting.”

CPJ’s emailed the Myanmar attorney general’s office for comment on the case, but did not immediately receive a reply.

National lawmakers are deliberating additional legislation that would empower authorities to criminally prosecute journalists for causing “public panic” through their news reporting on COVID-19, according to those news reports.

A law was submitted to the lower house of Parliament on May 18 which, if passed as drafted, would allow for six-month prison penalties and 500,000 kyat fines ($356) for those convicted, Human Rights Watch said in a statement sent to journalists and reviewed by CPJ.