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Myanmar Court Sentences VOA Contributor to 2 Years' Labor

FILE - Sithu Aung Myint (left) is seen on a VOA program with Maung Maung Soe and Daw Khin Myo Thet (VOA)
FILE - Sithu Aung Myint (left) is seen on a VOA program with Maung Maung Soe and Daw Khin Myo Thet (VOA)

A Myanmar court on Thursday sentenced journalist and Voice of America (VOA) contributor Sithu Aung Myint to two years' labor.

The Yangon court convicted Sithu Aung Myint under Section 505(a) of the country's penal code, which relates to denigrating the armed forces.

Sithu Aung Myint is already serving a three-year sentence with labor after a court in October convicted him of incitement.

A lawyer representing the journalist told VOA Burmese that Sithu Aung Myint plans to appeal the latest sentence. The lawyer, who asked to not be identified for security reasons, added that the journalist faces a third trial on charges of state defamation.

Sithu Aung Myint was first detained in August 2021 in Bahan Township, Yangon. The Military Council said that Sithu Aung Myint was arrested for writing articles critical of the military and the caretaker government through VOA and the Frontier news outlets.

When the earlier court sentenced Sithu Aung Myint, VOA's acting director Yolanda Lopez said in a statement that the military "must stop the indiscriminate arrest and detention of journalists and the hopeless legal proceedings that follow.

"The people of Myanmar deserve to live in a society that embraces accurate and objective news," Lopez said.

Sithu Aung Myint is known in Myanmar for his reporting on politics, business and social issues for local media and on his blog

He has been a contributor to VOA since 2014, providing weekly news analysis.

Since the February 2021 coup, authorities have used accusations of incitement and defamation of the military or state against independent journalists.

More than 120 journalists have been detained since the coup, with around 50 still in custody, according to Reporting ASEAN, which tracks arrests in Myanmar.

Earlier in November, the junta released thousands of prisoners, including five local journalists and a Japanese filmmaker.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in a statement said that those released were pardoned, which means the junta can easily take the journalists back into custody "on any spurious grounds."

A spokesperson for the Myanmar military has previously told VOA that the junta does not arrest journalists for their work.

The high number of arrests and pressure on the country's journalists is condemned by RSF and other international bodies.

The head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk, Daniel Bastard, in a statement called on the UN special rapporteur for Myanmar "to take action to toughen international sanctions on Myanmar's generals and to prevent them, once and for all, from regarding their treatment of journalists as just one of the variables of their absolute despotism."

The Japanese journalist, Toru Kubota, who was released in the amnesty in November had been detained in July covering anti-government protests.

A court in October had sentenced the journalist to three years for incitement and seven years for charges under the country's electronic transactions law.

This article originated in VOA's Burmese service.