Bangkok, January 11, 2023 – Myanmar’s military regime must stop arbitrarily imprisoning journalists and should allow independent media groups to report the news without fear of reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
In December, Myanmar courts sentenced at least eight independent journalists to prison terms ranging from three to 10 years, according to news reports and journalists who spoke to CPJ.
Separately, on January 4, junta authorities released at least six jailed journalists as part of a wider amnesty of over 7,000 prisoners to mark the nation’s Independence Day, according to news reports, a database compiled by the local rights group Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP), and a separate database compiled by the Detained Journalists Information Myanmar private Facebook group, which was shared with CPJ via email.
Myanmar ranked as the world’s third worst jailer of journalists, with 42 behind bars when CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1, 2022.
“Myanmar’s cruel carousel of jailing, sentencing, and granting early release to journalists is a form of psychological warfare aimed at breaking the will of independent journalists and media outlets,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Authorities must immediately cease treating members of the press as criminals and should release all reporters held in custody for their work.”
On December 16, a special court in Yangon’s Insein Prison sentenced Wai Lynn, founder of the local outlet Tingangyun Post, and Ma Htet Htet, an editor at the outlet, to five years each in prison under Section 5 of the Explosives Substances Act, which penalizes the unlawful possession of explosive substances, according to news reports and an AAPP statement.
Both reporters had been charged under Article 505(a), a broad provision that criminalizes incitement and the dissemination of false news, and under the Counter Terrorism Law before their convictions under the separate provision.
On either December 16 or 17, freelance journalist Soe Yarzar Tun was sentenced to four years in prison with hard labor under Section 52(a) of the Counter Terrorism Law, according to a report by The Irrawaddy and a statement by the AAPP. Soe Yarzar Tun was arrested in Bago City on March 10, 2022.
On December 21, a court in Insein Prison in Yangon sentenced Myanmar Pressphoto Agency photographer Kaung Sett Lin and camera operator Hmu Yadanar Khet Moh Moh Tun each to three years in prison with hard labor under Article 505(a), according to a report by their outlet and its editor-in-chief J. Paing, who communicated with CPJ via email.
Hmu Yadanar Khet Moh Moh Tun faces a separate charge under Section 50 of the Counter Terrorism Law that carries a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison, J. Paing said. Both journalists were arrested after being seriously injured on December 5, 2021, while covering an anti-coup protest in Yangon, where security forces shot and killed several protesters.
On December 26, an Insein Prison court sentenced Kamayut Media news producer Hanthar Nyein to five years in prison under Section 33(b) of the Electronic Transactions Law, according to news reports and Nathan Maung, the independent outlet’s founder and editor-in-chief, who communicated with CPJ via email. The conviction was handed down just as Hanthar had nearly fully served an earlier two-year sentence under Article 505(a), Maung said.
On December 29, a court in the southeastern city of Dawei sentenced Dawei Watch contributor Aung Lwin to five years in prison under Article 52(a) of the Counter Terrorism Law, according to a Dawei Watch report and the publication’s editor-in-chief Thu Rein Hlaing, who communicated with CPJ via email, and who said he will serve his sentence at Dawei Prison.
And on December 30, a court in Yangon sentenced Thurein Kyaw, founder and publisher of the independent outlet Media Top 4, to 10 years in prison with hard labor under Article 49(a) of the Counter Terrorism Law, according to news reports. Thurein Kyaw was beaten by unidentified attackers and initially detained on February 3, 2022, while covering a rally in support of the military junta in Yangon, according to news reports and photographs of his injuries circulated online.
According to news reports and the databases, the six journalists granted amnesty and released on January 4 are:
- Myo Min Tun, a freelance journalist who worked as an editor with the local Ayeyarwaddy Times and a senior reporter with Myit Makha News Group, who was serving a two-year sentence under Article 505(a).
- Lway M Phoung, a staff video editor at the local Shwe Phee Myay News Agency, who was serving a two-year prison sentence for criminal incitement under Article 505(a). She was held at Lashio prison in Shan State, where her health deteriorated after being detained.
- Ma Thuzar, a contributor to the Myanmar Pressphoto Agency, who was serving a two-year sentence for incitement under Article 505(a) handed down on November 22, 2022, by a court at Insein Prison. She was held in pretrial detention for over 14 months before being convicted.
- Pyae Phyo Aung, a reporter with the local Zayar Times, who was serving a two-year sentence under Article 505(a). Pyae Phyo Aung was arrested by police on October 11, 2021, at a Buddhist monastery shortly after joining the monkhood.
- Sai Ko Ko Tun, a former reporter for the local 7Day News, who was filing reports to Myanmar Now around the time of his November 20, 2021, arrest. He was serving a two-year sentence with hard labor under Article 505(a).
- Aung Zaw Zaw, a part-time video producer with the local Myanmar Free Press, who was serving a two-year sentence under Article 505(a).
CPJ emailed Myanmar’s Ministry of Information for comment but did not receive any reply.