After Ah Hla Lay Thuzar, a Burmese journalist better known by the pseudonym of Ma Thuzar, received a two-year jail sentence today, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on UN officials tasked with monitoring Myanmar to take tougher action to get the leaders of its military junta to stop normalising the terror they have been imposing on media personnel.
A freelance reporter based in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, Ma Thuzar, was sentenced this morning to two years in prison with hard labour by a court inside Insein prison, which is located in a Yangon suburb. Arrested on 1 September 2021, she had spent nearly 15 months in pretrial detention.
Initially reported by Burmese-language social media, her sentence was confirmed by RSF at midday. She was prosecuted under Section 505 (a) of Myanmar’s penal code, which – inter alia, – punishes inciting “hatred against the army forces.”
“Ma Thuzar’s totally arbitrary conviction is another sign of the normalisation of terror against journalists that the ruling junta in Naypyidaw has managed to impose,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We call on Tom Andrews, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, to take action to toughen international sanctions on Myanmar’s generals and to prevent them, once and for all, from regarding their treatment of journalists as just one of the variables of their absolute despotism.”
Constant threat of arrest
The State Administration Council, as the military junta is officially known, announced “pardons” on 16 November for several thousand detainees including five Burmese journalists – Mya Wun Yan (also known as Hla Yin Win), La Pyae, Than Htike Aung, San Myint and Ye Yint Tun – and for Toru Kubota, a Japanese documentary filmmaker, who was immediately expelled.
Although they were “pardoned,” their convictions were not overturned, with the result that the five Burmese journalists could easily be jailed again on any spurious grounds cooked up by the military.
These pardons are just a drop in the ocean alongside the number of journalists still detained in Myanmar, which currently stands at 61, according to RSF’s press freedom barometer. This makes Myanmar the world’s second biggest jailer of media personal, second only to China. In proportion to its population, it is the biggest.
Myanmar is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index.