The IPI global network strongly condemns the continuing crackdown on journalists in Myanmar after two journalists were sentenced to prison this week in separate cases for spreading “false news”. We call on the military regime to cease its human rights abuses against the press and to immediately release all journalists currently imprisoned in Myanmar.
On March 21, Han Thar Nyein, a co-founder of private online broadcast news organization Kamayut media, was sentenced to two years in prison for violating Section 505a of Myanmar’s penal code, which criminalizes the dissemination of “false news” against the regime.
Nyein was originally arrested a year ago, in March 2021, after Kamayut Media reported on the military’s February 2021 coup and violence against protesters. Nyein has since been held at the notorious Insein Prison in Yangon, where scores of journalists and political activists have been detained since the military seized power. He will also serve his sentence at Insein Prison.
On March 22, Than Htike Aung, a news editor with the independent media organization Mizzima, was also handed a two-year prison sentence for violating Section 505(a). Mizzima is among numerous independent outlets targeted by the regime. Authorities revoked Mizzima’s broadcast license and then raided its offices in Yangon shortly after the coup.
Aung was arrested by military police in March 2021 as he was covering a court case in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar’s capital. Months later he was charged with violating Section 505(a) for sharing a letter on Facebook protesting the military council’s announcement that it had revoked Mizzima’s license along with those of other media outlets. He will serve his sentence in Yamethin Prison in Myanmar’s Mandalay region, according to Mizzima.
These latest cases put a spotlight on the alarming escalation of attacks against independent media and journalists in Myanmar since the country came under military rule a year ago. The junta has since embarked on a brutal crackdown of the press across the country, shuttering independent media outlets, and arresting journalists. As of March 2022, an estimated 122 journalists have been arrested and nearly 50 are currently in detention, according to Reporting Asean.
“The military junta can never silence the independent media and journalists for doing their work”, Soe Myint, managing director and editor-in-chief of Mizzima, told IPI following Aung’s sentencing this week. “We have worked and will continue to work in whatever situation and whatever circumstances we may have”, he added.
In June 2021, IPI called on the military government to release all other imprisoned journalists, including American journalist Danny Fenster who was arrested in May 2021 while boarding a flight out of Myanmar. Fenster was sentenced to 11 years in prison for after being found guilty of encouraging dissent against the military, unlawful association, and breaking immigration law. He was later released.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the sentencing of Han Thar Nyein and Than Htike Aung and the Myanmar regime’s escalating attacks on the country’s independent journalists and civil society more broadly”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Both journalists should be freed immediately.”
“We once again call on the international community to forcefully respond to the widespread and alarming human rights abuses by the junta, including working to secure the immediate release of all journalists in the country as well as political prisoners”, Griffen added.