Bangkok, March 24, 2022 – Myanmar authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalists Hanthar Nyein and Than Htike Aung, and stop sentencing members of the press to prison for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On Monday, March 21, a military court in Yangon’s Insein Prison convicted Hanthar, co-founder of the local news website Kamayut Media, under Section 505(a) of the penal code, a broad anti-state provision that criminalizes incitement and the dissemination of “false news,” and sentenced him to two years in prison, according to news reports and Kamayut Media editor-in-chief Nathan Maung, who communicated with CPJ via email.
The following day, a court in the capital city, Naypyidaw, convicted Than Htike Aung, a news editor with the news website Mizzima, on the same charge and also ordered him to be imprisoned for two years, according to reports and Mizzima editor-in-chief Soe Myint, who also communicated with CPJ via email.
The courts both said that the time the journalists had already served, following Hanthar’s March 9, 2021, arrest and Than Htike Aung’s March 19, 2021, arrest, would count toward their sentences, according to the journalists’ editors.
“The sentencing of journalists Hanthar Nyein and Than Htike Aung on bogus anti-state charges underscores Myanmar’s dubious distinction as one of the world’s worst jailers of the press,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “They should be freed immediately, along with the dozens of other reporters wrongfully held behind bars under the abusive rule of the country’s military junta.”
Both reporters pleaded not guilty to the charges, their editors said.
Maung told CPJ that Hanthar did not have any immediate plans to appeal his conviction, and that his prison sentence included hard labor. He said Hanthar was currently in good health.
Previously, Maung told CPJ that authorities physically abused Hanthar at the Yay Kyi Ai interrogation center in Insein Township before moving him to Insein Prison.
Soe Myint also told CPJ that Than Htike Aung would not appeal his conviction. He said the journalist was transferred to Mandalay Division’s Yamethin Prison on Wednesday to serve his sentence.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Information did not immediately reply to CPJ’s request for comment sent via email. Myanmar is the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists, trailing only China, with at least 26 behind bars at the time of CPJ’s annual prison census, conducted on December 1, 2021.