Police officers are seen at a school in Rakhine state, Myanmar, on June 1, 2021. A military court recently sentenced two journalists to jail on incitement charges. (AFP)

Myanmar military court sentences 2 journalists to jail for incitement

Bangkok, June 2, 2021 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned Myanmar authorities’ sentencing of two journalists to prison on charges of incitement, and called for them to be released immediately.

Today, a military court in the southern city of Myeik convicted Aung Kyaw, a reporter with the Democratic Voice of Burma, and Zaw Zaw, a freelance reporter with Mizzima News, under Article 505(a) of the penal code, which criminalizes the dissemination of information that could agitate or cause security forces or state officials to mutiny, according to news reports.

The court sentenced each journalist to two years in jail, according to those reports and a statement from the Democratic Voice of Burma, which CPJ reviewed. The journalists do not plan to appeal their sentences, according to those sources.

“Myanmar authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalists Aung Kyaw and Zaw Zaw,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Reporting the news is not a crime. Myanmar’s junta must stop jailing and sentencing journalists on fabricated charges, and should allow the press to work freely.”

Aung Kyaw represented himself during two hearings after his lawyer came under threat by the military, the DVB statement said. Military authorities banned both independent news outlets on March 9 for covering anti-coup protests, as CPJ documented at the time.

Authorities first arrested Aung Kyaw at his home in Myiek on March 1, and arrested Zaw Zaw in the same city on April 7; both journalists had covered anti-coup protests in Myiek, those news reports and the DVB statement said.

Previously, on May 12, a military court sentenced DVB reporter Min Nyo to three years in prison under Article 505(a).

Two other DVB reporters are being held without charge, according to the outlet’s editor-in-chief, Aye Chan Naing, who communicated with CPJ by email, and said that the outlet preferred not to identify those reporters by name.

Myanmar’s military regime currently holds dozens of members of the press behind bars, according to preliminary data compiled by CPJ based on independent reporting, news reports, and research by the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, a local rights group. The majority have been detained during newsroom raids or while covering anti-coup street protests, and over half face charges under Article 505(a), according to that data.

On April 6, CPJ addressed a public letter to junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing calling on his regime to release all journalists detained in the wake of the February 1 coup.

CPJ emailed the Ministry of Information for comment on today’s sentencing, but did not immediately receive any reply.