Htet Aung, a reporter with the local Development Media Group news agency, is being held in pre-trial detention on anti-state charges of defamation for allegedly criticizing the military’s honor.
Development Media Group specializes in news from Myanmar’s western Rakhine State, where a 2017 army operation drove more than half a million Muslim Rohingyas to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in what the United Nations called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Htet Aung covered politics, human rights, and conflict for the news outlet.
His arrest came in the wake of the military’s February 1, 2021, democracy-suspending coup and subsequent protests. Since then, the military junta has engaged in an ongoing crackdown on Myanmar’s independent media, detaining and sentencing dozens of journalists.
On October 29, 2023, Htet Aung was arrested while taking photos of soldiers making donations to Buddhist monks during a religious festival in the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, according to news reports and the agency’s editor-in-chief, Aung Marm Oo, who communicated with CPJ via messaging app.
Soldiers, police, and special branch officials later that day raided the Development Media Group’s bureau; confiscated cameras, computers, documents, financial records, and cash; and sealed off the office building, Aung Marm Oo and those reports said. The raid caused the news agency’s staff to go into hiding.
Htet Aung faces charges under Section 65 of the Telecommunications Law, a defamation provision that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence, according to Aung Marm Oo.
On the day of Htet Aung’s arrest, Development Media Group published an interview with the wife of a man who was arrested in 2022 and was on trial for incitement and unlawful association in Rakhine State, also known as Arakan State, where insurgents are challenging the military. The woman said her husband was innocent and criticized the regime.
Development Media Group was banned by the previous elected government in 2019 for unstated reasons, and its website was blocked in 2020 over its coverage of the insurgent Arakan Army, according to Aung Marm Oo, who faces pending charges under the Unlawful Association Act and is currently in hiding.
As of late 2023, the Myanmar Ministry of Information did not reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment on Htet Aung’s arrest, legal status, and detention.