Myanmar’s former information minister has been arrested and charged with encouraging dissent against the military, the country’s military administration announced yesterday.
Ye Htut, a former army officer, served as information minister and presidential spokesperson in the military-backed administration of President Thein Sein. In a statement yesterday, the military’s information office said the 64-year-old had been detained on Saturday evening in connection with “spreading wrong information on social media.” One security source told the AFP news agency that Ye Htut had been charged under section 505 (a) of the Myanmar penal code, a broad and vaguely worded provision that criminalizes any comments or communication that “cause fear” or spread “false news.” Thousands of charges have been laid under section 505(a) since the military coup of February 2021.
As the spokesperson for the Thein Sein administration during 2013-16 and information minister from 2014 to 2016, Ye Htut became a familiar figure to the international press that covered the country’s economic and political reforms in the mid-2010s. Like many Myanmar citizens during those years, which were marked by the sudden advent of affordable mobile internet access, Ye Htut was a devotee of Facebook, a habit he has kept up since his retirement.
It is unclear exactly what posts led to his arrest, but his posts have often been subtly critical of the turn that Myanmar has taken since the military coup. Other recent posts document his visit to Inle Lake and a discussion about the Israel-Hamas war.
Ye Htut’s detention is the latest in a series of high-profile arrests to have been carried out by the besieged military government, which is currently reeling from coordinated military offensives targeting its proxies in northern Shan State.
As The Associated Press reports, it comes not long after a Myanmar military tribunal sentenced two high-ranking generals to life imprisonment after they were found guilty of high treason, accepting bribes, illegal possession of foreign currency, and violating military discipline.
Lt. Gen. Moe Myint Tun had been the army chief of staff and served as a member of the State Administration Council (SAC), as the junta terms itself. He also chaired three major economic supervisory bodies. Brig. Gen. Yan Naung Soe served as a joint secretary of one of the committees that Moe Myint Tun chaired. According to a report by Myanmar Now, the pair were accused of making millions of dollars from their dealings with palm oil traders and by benefiting from the disparity between official and blackmarket exchange rates with the U.S. dollar.
According to The Associated Press, they were both sentenced “to suffer transportation” – a colonial-era phrase meaning internal exile – for a 20-year term.
These arrests are a sign that the besieged military administration, opposed by much of the population and facing a gravely difficult challenge to keep the economy from collapse to maintain even its current unsteady control of the country, is beginning to search for internal scapegoats.
Ye Htut was no longer a serving official, so his case is not directly analogous to those of the two arrested generals, who sat close to the pinnacle of the SAC administration. But the fact that he was a loyal army man with a commanding Facebook following of more than 715,000 people, elevated him into the ranks of those deemed worthy. His arrest is a sign that the military junta will continue to devour its own until it either collapses or manages to stabilize its rule.