Myanmar court sentences journalist to 3 years in prison

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BANGKOK (AP) — A court in military-ruled Myanmar sentenced a freelance journalist associated with the international broadcaster BBC to three years in prison with labor on Thursday after she was found guilty of incitement, a legal official said.

Htet Htet Khine, who presented a program called “Khan Sar Kyi” — “Feel It" — for BBC Media Action, still faces an additional charge of unlawful association under which she could receive up to another three years in prison. The documentary program, on which she worked from 2016 to 2020, showed the problems of people across the country caused by years of unrest and conflict.

Since seizing power in February last year by ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, the military government has cracked down heavily on media freedom. It has forced at least 11 media outlets to shut down and arrested about 142 journalists, 57 of whom remain detained awaiting charges or trial.

Some of the closed media outlets have continued operating without a license, publishing online as their staff members dodge arrest.

Htet Htet Khine was arrested in August 2021 along with Sithu Aung Myint, a columnist who did commentaries for the online magazine Frontier Myanmar and the broadcaster Voice of America, at an apartment in the country’s largest city, Yangon, where they had been hiding.

Htet Htet Khine was initially accused of serving as volunteer editor for Federal FM Radio, an underground broadcaster of the National Unity Government, a shadow civilian administration established to oppose the military takeover. The ruling military council has declared the group a terrorist organization.

State-run media announced six days after her arrest that she has been charged with incitement for spreading false news that caused the public to hate the government and the military, which is punishable by up to three years in prison, and unlawful association for contacting illegal organizations, which can carry a penalty of three years’ imprisonment and a fine.

The hearings on the charges against her have been held at a court in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison, where she is detained. The hearings are closed to the media and the public.

A legal official who spoke on condition of anonymity because she is not authorized to release any information about court matters said Htet Htet Khine was found guilty on Thursday of attempting to destabilize the state by participating in mass protests against the military rule. Htet Htet Khine has denied all the accusations against her.

The case against her was not about her journalism activities, the official said, adding that she has not decided whether to submit an appeal. Her lawyers will file a final argument next week against the other charge under the Unlawful Association Act.

Sithu Aung Myint, who was arrested along with Htet Htet Khine, faces two incitement charges and one of sedition, which carries a maximum 20-year prison term.