Htun Than Aung

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Myanmar journalist Htun Than Aung, a founder and former editor-in-chief of the independent outlet Mekong News, is serving a three-year prison sentence for criminal incitement, a charge Myanmar’s military regime has used broadly to stifle independent news reporting since staging a democracy-suspending coup in 2021. 

On March 2, 2022, Htun Than Aung was arrested by authorities in Tachileik, Shan State, and charged by the city’s Hong Leik Police Station under Article 505(a) of the penal code, a broad provision that criminalizes incitement and the dissemination of false news, according to Mekong News managing editor Nyan Linn Htet, who communicated with CPJ via messaging app.

The journalist’s arrest came in the wake of the military’s February 1, 2021, 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.

Htun Than Aung was subject to severe physical abuse at an interrogation center before being transferred to Tachileik’s detention center, according to Nyan Linn Htet, who cited information provided by his family. 

On July 6, 2022, a Tachileik court convicted and sentenced Htun Than Aung to three years in prison under 505(a) of the penal code, the maximum penalty allowed under the anti-state provision, according to Nyan Linn Htet. The sentencing was also reported in databases compiled by the rights group the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners and the Detained Journalists Information Myanmar private Facebook group, which CPJ reviewed.

Htun Than Aung was transferred after his conviction to Kengtung prison in eastern Shan State, where he is serving his sentence, Nyan Linn Htet said. Htun Than Aung was not suffering from any abuse or health issues in prison, Nyan Linn Htet told CPJ via messaging app in October 2023.

Htun Than Aung officially resigned from his position at Mekong News in April 2021 and stopped reporting after going into hiding for over a month after Nyan Linn Htet was charged under 505(a) in the wake of the coup, causing him to flee the country with his family. Authorities banned Mekong News after the military seized power in a February 1, 2021, coup, according to Nyan Linn Htet.

Htun Than Aung did not initially want Mekong News to publicize his arrest so as not to jeopardize negotiations with authorities for his release. He was convicted for his journalism, according to Nyan Linn Htet, including 2021 reports on anti-military protests in Shan State after the coup and the regime’s retaliatory suppression of demonstrators. 

Myanmar’s Ministry of Information did not reply to CPJ’s October 2023 emailed request for comment on Htun Than Aung’s legal status, detention, and allegations that he was physically abused while in police custody.