Myanmar Slaps Two-Year Prison Terms on a Pair of Independent Journalists

Democratic Voice of Burma reporter Aung Kyaw live-streamed his arrest in March, drawing a huge audience.
2021-06-02
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Myanmar Slaps Two-Year Prison Terms on a Pair of Independent Journalists DVB reporter Aung Kyaw in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Aung Kyaw/Facebook

Two reporters working for independent media outlets in Myanmar were jailed for two years on Wednesday for reporting on the demonstrations against the February takeover by the military junta, a family member of one of them and other sources said.

Aung Kyaw, a 32-year-old Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reporter, was charged by the military regime with violating Section 505(a) of the Penal Code and sentenced by a court in Myeik Prison in the southern Tanintharyi region, his wife Nay Chi Moe told RFA.

The section pertains to the circulation of statements, rumors, or reports with the intent to cause military officers to disregard or fail in their duties, and carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.

“I don’t know why he was sentenced to two years in prison under Section 505(a) of the Penal Code,” Nay Chi Moe said. “Our family was not allowed to hear the case held at the prison court.”

Junta forces arrested Aung Kyaw when they stormed his home on March 1. He streamed his arrest live on Facebook, and the arrest video has been watched millions of times since then, according to a statement issued Wednesday by DVB.

The day before his arrest, the journalist broadcast live news that soldiers raided and destroyed some houses in Myeik township.

Because Aung Kyaw’s attorney was under threat by the junta, he decided not to hire another lawyer and instead defended himself in court during his last two hearings, DVB’s statement said.

Aung Kyaw argued that non-criminal charges should have been brought against him under Myanmar’s Media Law, rather than the Penal Code, and that he subsequently would have been found not guilty because he was doing his work as a journalist. The judge refused to accept the argument, however.

“I have no confidence in the judiciary under the military council, so I will not appeal,” Aung Kyaw said after the verdict, according to his wife.

Nay Chi Moe said she would not submit an appeal.

“The 505(a) charge should not have been used against a journalist,” she said. “He did not want to file an appeal because he does not believe in the law. He said his case was meant to create a news blackout. It is totally unfair that he was given a two-year sentence under 505(a).”

Aye Chan Naing, DVB's executive director and chief editor, called the sentence “total injustice.”

“There is no reason our reporter Aung Kyaw should be jailed,” he said. “The legal system is so flawed, and it was an unlawful arrest.”

myanmar-mizzima-journalist-zaw-zaw-undated-photo.jpg
Zaw Zaw, a freelance journalist for the Myanmar media outlet Mizzima, in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of Nay Chi Moe

Situation is ‘deteriorating’

Aung Kyaw’s jailing followed that of Min Nyo, a DVB reporter based in Pyay, Bago region, who was sentenced to three years in prison on May 12.

“The military junta is illegally detaining Aung Kyaw and Min Nyo, and there is not a single reason to keep them in prison,” DVB said in its statement. “The junta has currently 57 journalists detained for doing their work. This is a clear violation of both national and international laws by the Burmese junta.”

In another sentencing Wednesday in Myeik, Zaw Zaw, a freelance journalist who works for the outlet Mizzima, was sentenced to two years in prison for violating Section 505(a) of the Criminal Code. RFA could not reach his lawyer or family for comment.

Myint Kyaw, a former Myanmar Press Council member, says the current situation of the press in Myanmar is at its worst under the military regime.

“The situation of the press is deteriorating,” he said. “It is likely to become even worse. No one can say for sure whether it will lead to a censorship regime as existed under the previous junta, but we can say it’s heading in that direction.”

“There had been no such situation like this for a decade with putting more than 50 journalists in jail in Myanmar,” he said. “Press freedom is in a free fall at the worst rate.”

More than 80 journalists have been arrested since the Feb. 1 coup, and over 50 of them face criminal charges wile detained in prisons across the country.

“Myanmar’s junta started with zero respect for independent journalism and has gone downhill from there as the military tries to stop any reporting on the atrocities it's committing every day against the people,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

“The military’s move to go after journalists from respected Burmese media outlets like DVB and Mizzima is all about strangling any independent narratives about what’s happening in Myanmar, and trying to drag the people of the country back to the dictatorially imposed isolation that characterized the rule of previous military regimes in the country,” he said in a statement from Bangkok.

Correspondents say many journalists now are fleeing the country because of the junta’s crackdown on the media, with some going abroad to continue their reporting and others out of jobs and struggling to make ends meet.

Following the coup, the junta banned 11 independent news outlets, including DVB and Mizzima, from operating.

Reported by Soe San Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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