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Myanmar jails journalist for 20 years over cyclone reporting

September 6, 2023

Photojournalist Sai Zaw Thaike has been unfairly sentenced to 20 years, his employer says. Myanmar's junta has been cracking down on the press since it seized complete control in 2021.

Myanmar Journalist Sai Zaw Thaike
Image: Myanmar Now/REUTERS

A Myanmar photojournalist working for independent outlet Myanmar Now has been sentenced to 20 years in prison by the country's military authorities, his employer said on Wednesday. 

Sai Zaw Thaike has been under arrest since May, when he was reporting on the consequences of Cyclone Mocha. The storm killed more than 140 people in the coastal areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh, many of whom belonged to the persecuted Rohingya minority and were living in refugee camps.

What are the charges against Sai Zaw Thaike?

It is not yet clear, on what charges the journalist was convicted. Following his arrest in May, he had faced charges under four different laws, including a natural disaster law and a telecommunications law.

Journalists at Myanmar Now voiced their criticism. "His sentencing is yet another indication that freedom of the press has been completely quashed under the military junta's rule," editor-in-chief Swe Win said in a statement.

Myanmar Now describes itself as an independent news agency working underground to evade repression by the military junta.

Myanmar - How the Chin are fighting the Junta

ASEAN, US condemn violence in Myanmar

Myanmar's military, already a key player in ruling the country, seized complete control in a coup against the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party in 2021, and has been cracking down on civil society since.

Reports on the conviction of the journalist came just a day after leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) discussed Myanmar's political crisis at their annual summit meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Myanmar is a member of ASEAN but has not been invited to the regional meeting for the second year in a row.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, ASEAN members "urge the Myanmar Armed Forces in particular, and all related parties concerned in Myanmar to de-escalate violence and stop targeted attacks on civilians, houses and public facilities, such as schools, hospitals, markets."

US Vice President Kamala Harris weighed in in support of the statement. "The United States will continue to press the regime to end the horrific violence to release all those unjustly detained, and to re-establish Myanmar's path to inclusive democracy," she told ASEAN summit in Jakarta on Wednesday.

One of the deadliest countries for journalists

Myanmar is one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists according to advocacy groups.

Activists at the Detained Journalist Group report that over 150 journalists have been arrested, and four media workers have lost their lives since the coup.

Myanmar's military leadership has yet to comment on the sentencing of Sai Zaw Thaike, but has rejected the ASEAN nations' joint statement, saying: "The reviews are not objective and decisions are bias and one-sided."

fg/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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