Bangkok, April 6, 2022 – Myanmar authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Win Naing Oo and stop using terrorism charges to imprison independent reporters, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
A special court in Obo Prison, in the central city of Mandalay, on Tuesday, April 5, sentenced Win Naing Oo, chief reporter with the local Channel Mandalay TV news station, to five years in prison under Section 52(a) of the Counter Terrorism Law, a provision that outlaws acts of organizing or participating in a terrorist group, knowingly concealing or harboring a terrorist group, or giving permission for a terrorist group to use a building or gather, according to a report by The Irrawaddy and data compiled by local rights group the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners.
Win Naing Oo was arrested on August 31, 2021, in Mandalay, according to news reports and CPJ research. He was initially charged under Article 505(a) of the penal code, a broad provision that criminalizes “any attempt to cause fear, spread false news or agitate directly or indirectly a criminal offense against a government employee” or that “causes their hatred, disobedience, or disloyalty toward the military and the government.”
“Journalist Win Naing Oo should be released immediately and unconditionally, and allowed to continue his work of reporting the news without fear of reprisal,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “The military regime’s bid to equate journalism with terrorism marks a dark and preposterous turn in its brutal campaign to stifle Myanmar’s free press.”
The 505(a) charge was changed in mid-October to one of terrorism, according to a Myanmar Now report. A defense lawyer cited in The Irrawaddy report said Win Naing Oo has no plans to appeal his conviction, which found that he was involved with a local anti-military People’s Defense Force in Mandalay’s Sint Kaing Township.
Win Naing Oo’s arrest came in the wake of the military’s February 1, 2021, democracy-suspending coup and subsequent protests. The military junta cracked down on Myanmar’s independent media, detaining dozens of journalists. Myanmar is the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists, trailing only China, with at least 26 behind bars at the time of CPJ’s December 1, 2021, prison census.
CPJ messaged Channel Mandalay TV on Facebook for information on Win Naing Oo’s case, but did not receive any response. The Myanmar Ministry of Information did not immediately reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.