Two Myanmar journalists sentenced to prison time for incitement

Journalists from Mandalay- and Ayeyarwady Region-based news outlets were each handed two-year prison terms for incitement by the military council last week. 

Sagaing Region native Aung Zaw Zaw, from the Mandalay Free Press, and Ye Yint Tun from the Myanmar Herald (Myanmar Thandaw Sint) —in Pathein—were convicted of violating Section 505a of the Penal Code on March 23 in junta courts. 

Aung Zaw Zaw was sentenced in Kanbalu Township, Sagaing Region, according to a family friend who spoke to Myanmar Now on the condition of anonymity. He said that the 25-year-old was arrested from his home in Tauk Ka Shat village in the township on January 16.

“The military looked into his phone and laptop and I think they found things that they didn’t like,” the friend explained days after his arrest.

His news organisation released a statement calling for his release on January 19, noting that Aung Zaw Zaw was a part-time employee who was “still learning video editing” and had not committed any crime. 

Ye Yint Tun, convicted of the same charge nearly 900km south in Ayeyarwady, was sentenced in a Pathein prison court more than one year after his arrest while photographing anti-dictatorship protests in the township on February 28, 2021. 

In early January, an editor and a reporter from Zayar Times were sentenced to the same prison term as Aung Zaw Zaw and Ye Yint Tun for incitement in Sagaing. 

A police complaint letter seen by Myanmar Now said that Zayar Times staff members “addressed the military council as the coup regime and reported news on the CRPH and the NUG and the protests everyday,” a reference to the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw—which is made up of elected lawmakers ousted in the coup—and the shadow National Unity Government.

While many detained journalists have been charged by the junta with violating Section 505a, editor-in-chief of Channel Mandalay Win Naing Oo was, at the time of reporting, being detained in Mandalay’s Obo Prison on terrrorism charges. 

“They are going to arrest and imprison anyone that doesn’t write news in their favour,” a journalist on the run in upper Myanmar said of the junta. “Some journalists have already been killed. You can clearly see the loss of freedom of the press. A dark shadow has consumed the country.”

Journalists across the country have been forced into hiding as the military continues its crackdown on the media following the coup in February last year. The junta maintains that they have been acting in accordance with the law, and deny that journalists are being targeted for arrest. 

More than 130 journalists have been detained since the coup, some 50 of whom remain in prison, according to the Detained Journalists Group, which has been compiling data on the arrest and detention of media workers.

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