Attacks to press freedom and democracy continue to escalate in Myanmar, with two prominent writers and a student activist sentenced under an amendment to the Myanmar’s Penal code. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly condemn the junta’s continued censorship and quashing of critical reportage and calls on the international community to do more to protect the livelihoods and safety of journalists in Myanmar.
On February 22, Maung Tha Cho and Htin Lin Oo, two anti-junta writers, were sentenced to two and three years in prison respectively under Section 505(a) of the Myanmar Penal Code. Section 5050(A), an amendment introduced by the military junta, criminalises the circulation of any information with the intent to defame government employees.
The writers were arrested on February 1, 2021, the day of Myanmar’s military coup and were placed in Insein Prison, where they have been detained for more than a year.
This is not the first time a journalist has been charged under Section 505(A). In June 2022, the IFJ reported the sentencing of Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reporter Aung Kyaw, and freelance reporter Ko Zaw Zaw, who were the first journalists to be sentenced to two years in prison under Section 505(a).
Student activist Yin Myat Noe Oo was also given a three-year prison sentence for incitement at a court inside Insein Prison last week. The student was arrested in Yangon in April 2021 after putting up posters that criticised the junta.
According to the University Students’ Union Alumni Force (USUAF) who are in contact with detainees inside Insein Prison, inmates facing political charges have been tortured by prison authorities and denied medical treatment for their injuries.
On February 22, the United Nations human rights expert on Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, said that Russia, China and Serbia were providing arms assistance, including fighter jets, to the military junta. These weapons were supplied with “full knowledge that they would be used to attack civilians”, said Andrews.
The three sentencings come during a period of increasing restrictions on press freedom in Myanmar, one year on from the military takeover. According to Reporting ASEAN, at least 121 journalists and media workers have been arrested since the beginning of the military coup, with 47 currently detained as of February 9, 2022. At least 40 of the arrested journalists were charged with violating Section 505(a) of the Penal Code.
In December 2021, Ko Soe Naing, a freelance photojournalist, died in custody after being arrested by military forces for covering silent protests by opponents of the coup. Naing was the first journalist confirmed to have died in custody since the coup.
The IFJ said: “Journalists and media workers have suffered intensely throughout the first year of Myanmar’s military coup, actively persecuted and silenced for doing their jobs. The IFJ calls for the release of all detained media workers, including Maung Tha Cho and Htin Lin Oo, and strongly condemns the junta’s continued censorship and suppression of press and civilian freedoms. The IFJ urges the international community to heighten efforts to protect and support media workers and journalists working under the coup.”