Myanmar junta imposes record 15-year jail sentence on freelancer

Freelance reporter Myo San Soe’s record 15-year prison sentence on “terrorism” charges after more than a year in pre-trial detention constitutes yet another escalation in the terror that Myanmar’s military junta is inflicting on journalists, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The longest prison sentence that any journalist has been given in Myanmar since the military retook power in a coup in February 2021 was imposed on Myo San Soe on 30 November after he was convicted on charges of “terrorism” and “funding terrorism” under sections 50 (j) and 52 (a) of the country’s terrorism law.

The trial was held inside a prison in Pyapon, in the southern Ayeyarwady region, where Myo San Soe has been held ever since his arrest on 29 August 2021. RSF has verified the details of his trial and sentence, which were reported by Burmese-language social media the day after the trial.

“By imposing a 15-year jail term after 15 months of pre-trial detention, the junta’s puppet courts have shown there are no longer any limits to the despotism to which reporters are being subjected in Myanmar,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Myo San Soe’s record sentence must serve as an alarm signal. With less two months to go to the second anniversary of the February 2021 coup, the international community cannot continue to watch Myanmar sink ever-deeper into terror without doing anything.”

Escalating crackdown

As a freelancer for the Ayeyarwady Times, BNI News and Delta News Agency, three local media outlets that were banned immediately after the coup, Myo San Soe had continued to provide independent coverage of developments in Myanmar.

As such, he was in contact with representatives of the People’s Defence Force (PDF), a coalition of groups offering armed resistance to the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military. When he was arrested, the police found evidence of communication with these representatives in his mobile phone, which was used as grounds for the terrorism charges.

The length of his prison sentence is the latest sign that Myanmar’s generals are cracking down harder than ever on all of the country’s media. Win Oo and Zaw Min Oo, two journalists working for online media tolerated by the junta, were jailed two weeks ago for asking difficult questions during an information ministry press conference.

Myanmar is the world’s second biggest jailer of journalists, second only to China. In proportion to its population, it is the biggest.