BANGKOK: A 51-year-old reporter for a now-banned online and broadcast news agency in Myanmar was sentenced on Wednesday (May 13) by a military court to three years in prison for his reporting, his employer said.
Min Nyo, a correspondent for the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) is apparently the country’s first journalist since the army’s February takeover to be convicted under a recently revised provision in the penal code that critics charge criminalises free speech.
It makes punishable by up to three years in prison any attempt to “hinder, disturb, damage the motivation, discipline, health and conduct” of soldiers and civil servants and cause their hatred, disobedience or disloyalty towards the military and the government.
Three DVB journalists who fled Myanmar were arrested earlier this week in northern Thailand for illegal entry. Rights groups and journalists’ associations are urging Thai authorities not to send them back to Myanmar, where it is feared their safety would be at risk from the authorities.
Myanmar's junta has tried to smother all independent news media, and on Mar 8 revoked DVB’s TV license and banned it from broadcasting on any platform. Like many other banned media outlets, it has continued operating.
About 80 journalists have been arrested since the army seized power on Feb 1, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Roughly half are still detained and most of them are being held under the same charge for which Min Nyo was convicted, as are many activists opposed to the military regime.
READ: Thai police arrest journalists fleeing coup-hit Myanmar
READ: Myanmar Buddhist group signals break with authorities after violent crackdown
A statement issued by DVB said Min Nyo had been covering a Mar 3 anti-junta protest in the town of Pyay, 260km north-west of Yangon when he was arrested and severely beaten by police. It said he had been allowed to see a lawyer, but not his wife and two children.
Min Nyo had served seven years in prison under a previous military government after his arrest in 1996 for alleged ties to a militant student opposition group.
Min Nyo’s wife, Nyomee Moe, told the Associated Press that he was unjustly imprisoned both then and now.
“It is inhumane to be beaten and arrested. He never violated journalistic ethics. That is why I want to say that there is no justice in Myanmar,” she said, adding that she is consulting with lawyers about appealing the verdict.
Rights group Amnesty International said Min Nyo's case showed the ruthlessness of the junta and the risks faced by journalists exposing the junta's abuses.
“Min Nyo’s conviction must be quashed, and he should be released immediately – along with all other journalists, activists and human rights defenders imprisoned and detained solely for their peaceful opposition to the military coup," Amnesty deputy regional director Emerlynne Gil said in a statement.