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Myanmar Junta Jails Journalist for 20 Years

FILE - Myanmar photojournalist Sai Zaw Thaike is seen working in this undated photo. (Myanmar Now/Handout via Reuters)
FILE - Myanmar photojournalist Sai Zaw Thaike is seen working in this undated photo. (Myanmar Now/Handout via Reuters)

A Myanmar court on Wednesday sentenced a photojournalist to 20 years in prison on charges related to his coverage of a cyclone.

Sai Zaw Thaike, who worked for the news website Myanmar Now, was arrested in the country’s Rakhine state on May 23 while he was in the state covering Cyclone Mocha.

The storm killed more than 145 people, including many Rohinga, Myanmar’s junta said at the time.

In a one-day hearing Wednesday, a court convicted the journalist of sedition and other charges and sentenced him to 20 years in the country’s notorious Insein Prison, with hard labor.

The exact nature of his crime was not made public, but his employer, the independent news outlet Myanmar Now, said he was initially indicted on four charges, including breaching a natural disaster law and a telecommunications law.

Swe Win, editor-in-chief of Myanmar Now, said the media outlet is “saddened” to hear of the lengthy sentence.

“His sentencing is yet another indication that freedom of the press has been completely quashed under the military junta’s rule and shows the hefty price independent journalists in Myanmar must pay for their professional work,” Swe Win said in a statement.

Myanmar Now reported that Sai Zaw Thaike had been denied legal representation and family visits.

VOA contacted the military government’s spokesperson for comment, but as of publication had not received a response.

Since the military seized power in a coup in February 2021, Myanmar has become a leading jailer of journalists, according to media watchdogs.

But the sentencing Wednesday is the longest-known prison term handed down since the junta took power.

Myanmar is second only to Iran and China when it comes to detaining journalists. At least 42 were imprisoned in the country for their work as of late 2022, according to annual data from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In a statement, the New York-based media group called for the conviction to be reversed.

“Myanmar authorities’ grotesque 20-year sentencing of Myanmar Now journalist Sai Zaw Thaike on blatantly bogus charges is an outrage and should be immediately reversed,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ senior Southeast Asia representative. “Myanmar’s junta must stop imprisoning members of the press for merely doing their jobs as reporters.”

Sai Zaw Thaike is the second Myanmar Now journalist to be detained for their journalism since the coup.

His colleague Kay Zon Nway was detained in February 2021 until his release as part of an amnesty in June of that year.

The media outlet’s offices have also been raided and its publishing license revoked.

Some information for this article came from Reuters.