Beyond the Headlines: Myanmar junta convicts prominent columnist of sedition, bringing total prison term to 12 years

An anti-coup protest is seen in Mandalay on March 6, 2021 (Getty Images)

International affairs

Thailand’s new ambassador to Myanmar, Mongkol Visitstump, presented his credentials to junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on December 7 and held separate meetings with deputy military council leader Soe Win and the regime’s foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin.

The 55-year-old ambassador was appointed to his position in June, three months after his predecessor’s exit. That same month, Myanmar regime’s ambassador to Thailand—Chit Swe—also presented credentials to Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua. The country, which shares a long border with Myanmar, has refrained from being critical of the junta since the February 2021 coup, even as Min Aung Hlaing’s regime grows increasingly isolated from the international community.

During this period, several countries—including some in Southeast Asia—have downgraded their diplomatic ties with Myanmar’s military council or opted not to send successors to replace representatives whose service terms have concluded. 

Myanmar coup leader Min Aung Hlaing (left) is seen with Mongkol Visitstump on December 7 (Global New Light of Myanmar)


The regime reportedly arranged a meeting between detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and two members of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), in late November, according to sources who spoke with Myanmar Now last week.

Without prior notice, Suu Kyi—who is being held in the Naypyitaw Detention Centre—was said to have been taken from her cell on November 23 to meet the two NLD members: former MP Sandar Min from Yangon and Toe Lwin, a party official from Ayeyarwady Region. Suu Kyi had no court hearings on that day, one of the sources explained, adding that she had not been informed who the guests were. The members reportedly asked for permission from the detained party chair to reopen some of the NLD’s offices and attempted to discuss the contentious 2023 election planned by the junta. The sources said that Suu Kyi rejected all requests and told them “not to come to see her again.”

Of note, the sources pointed out, was that Suu Kyi had repeatedly been barred by junta authorities from meeting with envoys from regional bloc ASEAN, as well as those from the UN. 

During a previous period in which questions were raised regarding the reopening of party offices in July, the NLD released a statement declaring that it would do no such a thing nor resume party operations under the junta, mentioning that several members had requested that activities be restarted. Suu Kyi was said to have denied the same request then as well. 

Tun Myint, an NLD parliamentarian elected to represent Yangon’s Bahan Township and a member of the party’s central working committee, told Myanmar Now at that time that some “traitors” within the NLD had been attempting to return to normalcy, but did not name the individuals. In their July 5 statement, the NLD described how the reopening of their offices under the junta would defy the will of the people, who have widely opposed the coup through protest and armed resistance. The party vowed to take action against anyone who entered NLD offices without permission. 

Suu Kyi, 77, has been in junta custody since the military overthrew her party’s elected civilian government nearly two years ago. Since then, she has been convicted of 14 charges and sentenced to a total of 26 years in prison. Verdicts on the five cases remaining against her will be reached by the end of this year, according to a source familiar with the legal proceedings. 

Armed resistance

The Crocodile Column, an anti-regime armed resistance coalition in Tanintharyi Region, launched attacks on three junta outposts in Palaw Township on December 8. They began the assaults on sites north of Palaw town, located in the occupied villages of Pu Law Kone and Ta Maing Taung, and continued by striking Nan Taung, to the east. The operation took around 16 hours, with resistance forces retreating at around 10pm.

Crocodile Column spokesperson Mya Zan told Myanmar Now that the junta troops fired heavy artillery back at them from bunkers in which they had positioned themselves in the villages in question. The troops at the three sites had reportedly shot heavy weapons as cover for soldiers carrying out ground offensives elsewhere in Palaw in recent months. The area is also within the territory of Brigade 4 of the ethnic armed organisation the Karen National Liberation Army. 

During the December 8 attacks on the village outposts, other resistance force members under the leadership of the Crocodile Column ambushed troops stationed near Palaw’s City Hall and in the village of Pa Wut Kone, around eight miles from the town. 

The assaults marked the second time this month that the resistance forces in Tanintharyi worked collaboratively under the Crocodile Column coalition. 

Urban violence

While resistance attacks on regime outposts continue in rural areas of the country, urban guerrilla groups have also been striking junta targets on a near weekly basis throughout the 22 months since the coup. Last week, a police station, a military checkpoint and a man accused of working for the junta authorities in Yangon were targeted in assaults by these forces.  

Three such groups based in Yangon struck a police station in Yangon’s Mingaladon Township using handmade bombs at around 8pm on December 7. An office building was damaged and a staff member fainted and was sent to the hospital, according to a member of one of the groups involved. He added that the police officials at the station in question had extorted money from the families of individuals arrested for anti-coup activities. Myanmar Now is unable to independently verify his claims independently.

That same night, two gunmen shot and wounded a man called Ye Sein in Thaketa Township, hitting him in the back. The man, who works as a local food vendor, was accused of working for the regime as an informant, but Myanmar Now was unable to verify the allegations against him. No group claimed responsibility for the attack on Ye Sein.

Ye Sein is seen injured after the shooting (Supplied)

Another Yangon-based urban guerrilla force used explosives to attack a regime checkpoint the following morning near the junction of the No 3 and Khayae Pin roads just outside of the commercial capital. The group, Black Fox Yangon UG, struck the strategic post located at Yangon’s entrance and exit, where they claimed at least eight regime personnel were stationed, including soldiers, police officers and members of the traffic police. The spokesperson for the group added that all eight were injured, one fatally. The same checkpoint was hit with explosives on September 8 by a different urban guerrilla force named Human Rights Defenders.

Caption: Junta soldiers are seen at a checkpoint in Yangon on October 6 (Myanmar Now)


Detained journalist and columnist Sithu Aung Myint was handed another seven years in prison with hard labour on December 9 after the regime-controlled Yangon eastern district court convicted him of sedition under Section 124a of the Penal Code, according to a report by the Voice of America (VOA). He was already serving a five-year term for two incitement convictions in October and November. At the time of reporting, he was facing a total of 12 years in prison.

Columnist Sithu Aung Myint

The prominent columnist was arrested in Yangon on August 15 along with another journalist, Htet Htet Khine. He has been an outspoken critic of military rule and regularly contributed to media outlets such as Frontier Myanmar and VOA’s Burmese language service. After his arrest, regime mouthpiece Global New Light of Myanmar said Sithu Aung Myint had supported “terrorist groups,” encouraged people to join the Civil Disobedience Movement, and spread “fake news” about a junta-controlled lottery scheme.