Late last week, a Myanmar journalist who was seriously injured when a military vehicle drove into an anti-coup protest in 2021 was sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor for violating Myanmar’s counterterrorism law.
According to the exile media group Mizzima, Hmue Yadanar Khet Moh Moh Tun, a camera operator for the Myanmar Pressphoto Agency, was convicted and sentenced at the Thingangyun District Court in Yangon on Friday, under Section 50(j) of the Counter-Terrorism Law
The conviction comes a year after she was sentenced to three years in prison, along with fellow Myanmar Pressphoto Agency photographer Kaung Sett Lin. The pair were convicted under Section 505(a) of the country’s Penal Code, a broad and vaguely worded provision that criminalizes any comments or communication that “cause fear” or spread “false news.” Section 505(a) has been a prime weapon in the junta’s post-coup media crackdown. According to a report from the Myanmar Pressphoto Agency, the charge under Section 50(j) stemmed from Hmue Yadanar’s alleged donations to anti-junta groups via the KBZPay mobile payment app.
Hmue Yadanar was arrested along with Kaung Sett Lin on December 5, 2021, while covering an anti-coup protest in Yangon’s Kyimindaing Township. Both journalists were seriously injured when authorities rammed a military vehicle into the crowd. A total of 15 people were arrested, nine of whom were also arrested and convicted under Section 505(a).
A member of Hmue Yadanar’s family told Mizzima that she “is in good health, but she still has injuries. Three bones in her left leg were broken during the incident, so she had steel bones replaced so she could walk with crutches.” In comments to Radio Free Asia, her lawyer said that she decided not to appeal the sentence, presumably because it is clear that the proceedings are a foregone conclusion.
“She said she did not want to appeal,” the attorney told the U.S.-funded broadcaster. “She has no more indictments to face.”
The case of Hmue Yadanar speaks to the effective death of Myanmar’s media since the coup of February 2021. The military junta has moved decisively to destroy the lively media ecosystem that evolved during the country’s phased period of political and economic opening in the 2010s. The junta has forced independent outlets to shut down, pushing hundreds of media workers to flee the country and revive the exile media outlets that reported on the country under the last military junta prior to 2011. This has left only a network of stentorian state-media outlets that report in clotted prose the doings of senior generals and fulminate against the “terrorists” resisting military rule.
According to one estimate, around 156 journalists have been arrested since the military coup, most of them while reporting on anti-coup protests or the unfolding civil war. Around 50 journalists remain in prison. According to the Committee to Project Journalists, Myanmar is now the world’s third-worst jailer of journalists as of December 2022, behind only Iran and China. According to the Paris-based watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), it is actually the worst in per capita terms.
“With significant risks of being jailed, tortured or murdered, journalism is an extremely dangerous profession in Myanmar,” RSF said in the latest iteration of its Press Freedom Index, which saw the country come in eight spots from the bottom.