Detained Myanmar Columnist Faces Life in Prison

By The Irrawaddy 23 August 2021

Detained political columnist U Sithu Aung Myint is facing life in prison on sedition charges for being critical of Myanmar’s junta and for allegedly backing the shadow National Unity Government (NUG).

The junta arrested U Sithu Aung Myint, an outspoken junta critic, and Ma Htet Htet Khine, a freelance producer working with the BBC, from a hideout in Yangon on August 15.

The junta-controlled media announced on Saturday that the columnist wrote articles criticizing the military for the Voice of America and Frontier Myanmar after the February coup. It said he also posted articles on Facebook criticizing the regime’s governing body, the State Administrative Council, inciting government employees to join the civil disobedience movement and backed the NUG, which has been declared a terrorist organization.

An arrest warrant was issued for U Sithu Aung Myint in April for allegedly spreading false news under Article 505(a) of the Penal Code, which carries up to three years’ imprisonment.

Junta-controlled media released pictures of the two after their arrest in its report.

The junta-controlled media said he was also charged with Article 124(a) of the Penal Code which prohibits “any attempt to cause hatred, contempt and disaffection” towards the military or government. The charge carries a sentence of life in prison.

Ma Htet Htet Khine was charged under Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act for allegedly working as a volunteer editor for Federal FM launched by the NUG and for harboring U Sithu Aung Myint.

Ma Htet Htet Khine was the presenter of a program for audiences in Myanmar called “Khan Sar Kyi” (Burmese for “Feel it”) for BBC Media Action, the corporation’s international development charity.

“We are concerned by the detention and charges against our freelance producer, Htet Htet Khine,” BBC Media Action said, adding that it was monitoring the situation.

The two journalists have had no access to a lawyer since their arrest.

U Khin Maung Myint, the legal adviser to Ma Htet Htet Khine, said the two were had been relocated to police custody from a military interrogation center and are likely to be moved soon to Insein Prison, where he expects to have contact with her.

The two join around 50 jailed journalists as the junta continues to crack down on journalists with arrests and lawsuits to silence coverage of its atrocities.

Since the February coup, the junta has arrested 95 journalists and media staff. Of them, six have been convicted under Article 505(a) and one was sentenced under Article 188 of the Penal Code for defying government orders.

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