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Myanmar Indicts VOA Contributor Over Critical Analysis


Journalists Sithu Aung Myint and Htet Htet Khine, seen in these undated photos, were arrested in Myanmar in August 2021. Sithu Aung Myint was formally indicted April 22, 2022, by a court in Yangon.
Journalists Sithu Aung Myint and Htet Htet Khine, seen in these undated photos, were arrested in Myanmar in August 2021. Sithu Aung Myint was formally indicted April 22, 2022, by a court in Yangon.

A journalist in Myanmar who contributes to news outlets including Voice of America and Frontier Myanmar was formally indicted Thursday by a court in Yangon.

Sithu Aung Myint, who was arrested in August 2021 along with freelance journalist Htet Htet Khine, is facing two charges related to content that authorities say was critical of the military.

A lawyer, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said the court indicted Sithu Aung Myint on charges of incitement and spreading false news under Section 505a of Myanmar's penal code, and charges of sedition under Section 124a, which penalizes anything deemed to create "contempt or disaffection" toward the military.

If convicted, he could face up to three years imprisonment for the first charge and up to 20 years for the second.

After the hearing Thursday, the lawyer said that Sithu Aung Myint has been denied access to adequate medical care while in custody.

"The weather was hot, and the mosquito bites made it difficult for him to sleep. (He) took medication at the doctor's office because of diarrhea. However, most medicines provided are expired," the lawyer told VOA.

Others in custody also lack proper medical care, the lawyer said.

In a response sent to VOA after publication, Myanmar's military press team forwarded a comment from the Myanmar Prison Correctional Department that said Sithu Aung Myint had not informed the prison that he was unwell. The department said that the journalist looks fine and that healthcare for all those in custody is handled in accordance with prison rules and regulations.

The military has previously denied targeting journalists for their coverage.

At the time of his arrest in Bahan Township in Yangon, Sithu Aung Myint was in hiding with Htet Htet Khine, a freelancer who worked for BBC Media Action. They were taken into custody on Aug. 15, 2021.

Than Lwin Htun, the head of VOA's Burmese service, said that Sithu Aung Myint's reporting for VOA is fact-based and that he believes the journalist should be released.

"It is the responsibility of journalists to report on what is happening, so it is necessary to listen to the people through the media who are reporting correctly," Than Lwin Htun said.

Htet Htet Khine, the journalist arrested with Sithu Aung Myint, is facing charges under Myanmar's Illegal Association Act.

She is in Insein prison awaiting trial, and the lawyer representing her went into hiding after being harassed by the military.

Separately, Soe Yarzar Tun, a freelance journalist released during a prison amnesty in June 2021, is back in custody after being charged under Myanmar's anti-terrorism law.

A person familiar with the case, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, told VOA that lawyers for the journalist have not yet been able to get documents relating to his case.

The freelancer worked for the Myanmar outlets Mizzima and Myanmar Now. He was first arrested in March 2021 while covering anti-coup protests and was detained for 122 days.

Since the February 1 coup, 122 journalists and media workers have been arrested and 48 are still detained, according to Reporting Asean, which tracks arrests. Of those, 22 have been convicted.

Accusations of incitement or attempts to denigrate the military are the most common accusations leveled at media.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include a statement provided by Myanmar's military press team.

This story originated in VOA's Burmese service.