Myanmar military court sentences two journalists to jail

Rights groups decried the move as the latest assault on press freedom since the country’s coup.

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Associated Press

An anti-coup protester gestures during a march in Yangon, Myanmar on March 26, 2021.

Associated Press

BANGKOK — A military court in Myanmar has sentenced two journalists to two years in prison for their reporting, a move decried by rights groups as the latest assault on press freedom since the country’s coup.
Aung Kyaw, 31, a reporter for the Democratic Voice of Burma, and Zaw Zaw, 38, a freelance reporter for the online news agency Mizzima, were convicted Wednesday by the court in Myeik, a city in southern Myanmar.
The two had been charged under a recently revised provision in the penal code with spreading misinformation that could incite unrest, a charge that critics say criminalizes free speech.

The convictions are the latest moves against journalists since the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a February coup. According to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, about 90 journalists have been arrested since the takeover, with more than half still in detention, and 33 still in hiding.
The coup sparked massive civilian protests against military rule that have been met with a crackdown that has left hundreds dead.

They should not have been arrested, much less imprisoned, for simply doing their jobs.”

— Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch

The Democratic Voice of Burma and Mizzima are among five local media outlets that were banned in March from broadcasting or publishing after their licenses were canceled. Like many other banned media outlets, both have continued operating.
A statement issued by the Democratic Voice of Burma said Aung Kyaw was arrested March 1 for reporting about anti-junta demonstrations in Myeik. It said Aung Kyaw defended himself in court after his lawyer was threatened by authorities.
A statement from Mizzima said Zaw Zaw was detained about two months ago at his home while covering events for them in Myeik and Dawei, also in southern Myanmar.
The news agency said it “categorically opposes the two-year prison sentence handed to Zaw Zaw and calls for the immediate release of all journalists unjustly detained by the ruling junta, including Zaw Zaw and another four detained Mizzima journalists.”
The military’s move to go after journalists from respected media outlets is “all about strangling any independent narratives about what’s happening in Myanmar,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for the New York-based group Human Rights Watch.
“The junta is systematically arresting and imprisoning journalists whenever they can, vaulting Myanmar into the position of being one of the newest, most dangerous countries to report from in the region,” Robertson said.
He called the charges against the journalists “politically motivated and bogus.”
“They should not have been arrested, much less imprisoned, for simply doing their jobs,” he said.

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