Junta sentences Kanbawza Tai journalists to three years in prison

Three reporters from the Kanbawza Tai, based in the Shan State capital of Taunggyi, were sentenced on Friday to three years imprisonment for incitement by a specially designated court inside the jail where they were detained. 

The sentencing came more than eight months after the journalists—reporter Nang Win Yi, publisher Tin Aung Kyaw and editor Nang Nang Tai—were arrested by the junta on March 24. 

“They filed charges against them for allegedly reporting false news in 120 pieces of content among our articles and news reports,” Zay Tai, editor-in-chief of the outlet and Nang Nang Tai’s husband, told Myanmar Now, adding that he did not know which of Kanbawza Tai’s content had been identified as false.

He said that the reporters were initially accused of working after the junta had revoked their publishing licence, but it was later revealed that Kanbawza Tai was not among the media organisations that lost their licences following the February 1 military coup. After this, the reason for the journalists’ arrest was changed to reporting false news, Zay Tai explained. 

A fourth person, editor Nang Nang Tai’s brother Sai Sithu, was present at her home at the time it was raided by the junta’s armed forces in March. Alongside the Kanbawza Tai staff, he was also arrested, charged on April 26 with violating Section 505a of the Penal Code and sentenced on Friday.

“The police report said that they found Sai Sithu at home while they were looking for me and that Sai Sithu was a journalist—he isn’t,” Zay Tai said, calling the arrest and charges a “shameful” act by the junta. 

Sai Sithu was a former employee of the department of social welfare in Hopong Township in southern Shan State. The department released a statement on June 3—months after he was arrested—declaring that he had been fired for taking an unapproved absence. 

The statement, which has been seen by Myanmar Now, suggested that the department would bring legal charges against Sai Sithu if he did not return a loan that he had allegedly been granted, worth two months of his salary. 

A total of 10 journalists have been arrested in Shan State since the coup, four of whom have subsequently been released, according to data compiled by Kanbawza Tai. The six remaining detainees include the three journalists and brother of the Kanbawza editor, editor-in-chief of the Thanlwin Thwe Chin news agency Mya Wun Yan and TV reporter Lwei Am Pao from Shwe Phe Myay. 

“The journalists were just doing their jobs. Even the military itself is sticking its nose into political and administrative matters in which they have no business. If they regard themselves as innocent, they have no right to find us guilty,” Kanbawza editor-in-chief Zay Tai said. 

Following the coup, nine media organisations including Mizzima, 7 Day, Myanmar Now, DVB, Yangon Khit Thit, 74 Media, Myitkyina News Journal, Tachileik News Agency and Delta News Agency had their publishing licences revoked by the junta. 

With at least 26 journalists in prison, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has stated that Myanmar has the second-largest number of journalists in detention globally.  

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