BANGKOK -- A court in military-ruled Myanmar has convicted a 34-year-old journalist of violating the country’s counter-terrorism law, adding 10 years to the three-year prison sentence she was given last December for filming an anti-military protest in which she was injured by a speeding army vehicle, according to her lawyer and a family member.
The conviction of Hmue Yadanar Khet Moh Moh Tun, a video journalist for the online Myanmar Pressphoto Agency, is the latest move against press freedom by the country’s ruling military, which has cracked down on independent media since seizing power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021.
Myanmar is one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists, second only to China, according to Reporters Without Borders, and it is ranked near the bottom of the watchdog's World Press Freedom Index -– 173rd out of 180 countries this year.
“By imposing this additional 10-year sentence on Hmu Yadanar, the military junta led by Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has yet again demonstrated the extraordinary scale of the tyranny to which reporters are subjected to Myanmar,” Daniel Bastard, head of the Paris-based group's Asia-Pacific desk, said in a statement Tuesday. “We urge Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, to take up this highly symbolic case in order to seek effective international sanctions against its military rulers.”
Since the takeover, journalists in Myanmar have faced extreme peril as the military government criminalized many aspects of reporting and has arrested more than 150 journalists, driving many others into hiding or exile.
At least 13 media outlets have had their licenses revoked and about 156 journalists have been arrested, 50 of whom remain detained. Of the detainees, 31 have already been convicted and sentenced. At least four journalists have been killed and others tortured while in detention.
Most of the detained journalists are being held under an incitement charge — defined as causing fear or spreading false news that leads the public to hate the government and military — which is punishable by up to three years in prison. Others are held under the counter-terrorism law, which carries punishments ranging from 10 years in prison to the death penalty.
The army’s takeover triggered mass public protests that the army and police responded to with lethal force, leading to armed resistance and escalating violence that has plunged Myanmar into civil war.
The lawyer for Hmue Yadanar, who asked not to be identified due to fear of reprisals from the authorities, told The Associated Press that the Thingangyun distinct court in eastern Yangon, the country’s largest city, sentenced his client last Friday to 10 years in prison with hard labor for violating the country’s counter-terrorism law by allegedly supporting major resistance groups. The ruling military council has declared such groups to be terrorist organizations.
The lawyer said the defense had proved that allegations of her having a financial link to resistance groups were not true, but the judge said the proof was inconclusive.
Hmue Yadanar decided not to appeal, he said.
In December last year, Hmue Yadanar was handed a three-year prison sentence with hard labor for incitement along with her colleague Kaung Sett Lin, a photographer for the photo agency, so the latest conviction brought the total time she must serve in prison to 13 years.
She and Kaung Sett Lin were arrested along with nine protesters in December 2021 after an army vehicle plowed into a peaceful flash-mob march against military rule in Yangon. The two journalists were hit by the vehicle at high speed as they were taking photos and videos from behind the protest march. Hmue Yadanar’s left ear was cut in half, her left cheek was torn, bones were broken in three places in her left ankle and she had to have 15 stitches for a head wound.
She received metal implants to fix broken bones in her left leg in Insein prison in northern Yangon in March but still has to use crutches to walk, according to a family member who also asked that her name not be used because of fear of military reprisals.
“There was only one case earlier, so we could be strong in our minds. But she received another sentence and we are very sad for her. She told us not to worry too much and to stay strong. What we can do right now is pray for her release as soon as possible,” she said Wednesday.
“The conviction shows the clear attitude and intention of the military council toward journalists. Freedom of the press is now far away," commented J Paing, the founder and editor of Myanmar Pressphoto Agency, which is forced to operate underground.