Bangkok, August 1: Myanmar authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Maung Maung Myo and stop imprisoning members of the press on spurious charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On Friday, July 29, a court in the city of Hpa-an, in Kayin state, sentenced Maung Myo, a reporter for the independent Mekong News Agency, to six years in prison on charges of violating Section 52(a) of the Counter-Terrorism Law, according to news reports and the news agency’s editor Nyan Linn Htet, who communicated with CPJ via messaging app.
Maung Myo was convicted for possessing pictures and interviews with members of People’s Defense Forces, an array of insurgent groups that are fighting Myanmar’s military government, according to those sources. Authorities banned the Mekong News Agency after the military seized power in a February 1, 2021, coup, according to Nyan Linn Htet. Nyan Linn Htet said Maung Myo is being held at Hpa-an’s Taung Kalay Prison, is in good health, and intends to appeal his conviction.
“Journalist Maung Maung Myo’s sentencing and imprisonment is cruel and unusual, and is unjust retaliation for his work as an independent news reporter,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Myanmar’s junta must stop equating journalism with terrorism and allow journalists to report the news without fear of imprisonment.”
Maung Myo, who is also known as Myo Myint Oo, was first arrested on May 10 at the Salween River bridge checkpoint near Hpa-an after officials discovered he had shared Mekong News Agency reports on his personal Facebook page, according to those news reports.
Maung Myo has reported for Mekong News Agency since June 2020 and has covered various political topics, including COVID-19 in Myanmar, anti-coup protests, and clashes between the military government and armed resistance groups, including the People’s Defense Forces.
At least two other Myanmar journalists were convicted and sentenced in July for their news reporting.
On July 7, a Wetlet Township court in the northwestern region of Sagaing convicted and sentenced Democratic Voice of Burma journalist Aung San Lin to six years in prison with hard labor, with four years under Section 52(b) of the Counter-Terrorism Law and two years under the penal code’s Section 505(a), which criminalizes incitement and the dissemination of “false news,” according to DVB and other news reports.
Aung San Lin was first arrested on December 11, 2021, by about 20 soldiers who raided his home around midnight in the Sagaing Region’s village of Pin Zin, shortly after he published a report alleging that military forces committed arson attacks on the homes of three supporters of the coup-toppled National League for Democracy in Wetlet Township.
The DVB report said he was being held at Shwebo Prison near the central city of Mandalay. CPJ could not immediately determine whether he intended to appeal his conviction, and DVB editor-in-chief Aye Chan Naing did not reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
Separately, on July 14, an Insein Township Court in Yangon sentenced Nying Nying Aye, a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to the local news website Mizzima, to three years in prison with hard labor under Section 505(a) of the penal code, according to multiple news reports.
Nying Nying Aye, also known as Mabel, started reporting on domestic politics for Mizzima soon after the coup, according to the outlet’s editor-in-chief Soe Myint, who communicated with CPJ via email. She has been detained since January 15, according to those reports.
The Myanmar Ministry of Information did not reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment on the journalists’ convictions and sentencings.
Myanmar was the world’s second worst jailer of journalists, trailing only China, with at least 26 behind bars when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census on December 1, 2021.