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Myanmar journalist Htet Aung sentenced to 5 years in prison under counterterrorism law

Originally published on CPJ

New York, July 2, 2024—Myanmar authorities should release journalist Htet Aung, and allow members of the press to do their jobs without fear of legal reprisal or imprisonment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

On June 28, a court in Sittwe, capital of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, sentenced Htet Aung, a reporter with the Development Media Group (DMG) news agency, to five years in prison with hard labor.

His sentence was in connection with a report the outlet published on August 25, 2023, under the headline “Calls for justice on sixth anniversary of Muslim genocide in Arakan State,” according to the news agency, a DVB social media post, and DMG editor-in-chief Aung Marm Oo, who communicated with CPJ via text message.

Htet Aung was convicted of abetting terrorism under Section 52(a) of the country’s Anti-Terrorism Law. The journalist’s initial indictment was for defamation under Section 65 of the Telecommunications Law, but the charge was changed to abetting terrorism on December 1.

DMG office security guard Soe Win Aung was handed the same sentence as Htet Aung, according to the news report and Aung Marm Oo. Both were also held on a charge of allegedly stealing a motorcycle, the same sources said. 

In a public statement reviewed by CPJ, DMG said it “strongly condemns the regime’s unjust imprisonment” of Htet Aung and Soe Win Aung. 

“The 5-year sentencing of Development Media Group reporter Htet Aung on bogus terrorism charges is Myanmar’s latest outrage against the free press and should be immediately reversed,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative.

“Myanmar’s junta must stop harassing and jailing journalists for merely doing their jobs by reporting the news.”

After his October arrest, Htet Aung was held in pre-trial detention at Sittwe’s No. 1 Police Station, where he was denied visitation, according to the news agency’s report and Aung Marm Oo.

Htet Aung was initially arrested while taking photos of soldiers making donations to Buddhist monks during a religious festival in Sittwe.

Hours later, soldiers, police, and special branch officials raided the Development Media Group’s bureau; confiscated cameras, computers, documents, financial records, and cash, and sealed off the building.

The agency’s staff went underground to avoid arrest, according to Aung Marm Oo, who has been in hiding since 2019 after being charged under Myanmar’s Unlawful Association Act, which can result in up to five years’ imprisonment and fines.

Development Media Group specializes in news from Rakhine State, where in 2017, an army operation drove more than half a million Muslim Rohingyas to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in what the United Nations called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” 

CPJ’s email to the Myanmar Ministry of Information did not receive a response. 

Myanmar was the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists, with at least 43 journalists behind bars, at the time of CPJ’s December 1, 2023, prison census.

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