A BURMESE (Myanmar) court on Tuesday sentenced a former newspaper columnist to seven years in prison and ordered him to pay a fine for violating the country’s sedition law for criticising State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi on Facebook.
The sentencing of Ngar Min Swe, a former state news media columnist and prominent critic of the de facto leader, comes amid concerns over freedom of expression in wake of the controversial jailing of two Reuters reporters recently.
According to Radio Free Asia, Min Wee’s wife, May Than Win, said apart from the fine her husband must pay a MMK100,000 (US$64) fine.
She said her husband, when writing on the social networking website, was merely offering suggestions to the leader.
“He didn’t hire a lawyer for his case and defended himself in court because he feels he didn’t do anything wrong,” Than Win was quoted as saying
“What he said is right. He didn’t defame her. The punishment he received is not appropriate for what he did.”
Min Swe was arrested on July 12 at his home in Hlaing township and was subsequently charged under Section 124A of the Penal Code for the criticisms against Suu Kyi, whose civilian administration took majority control over the long-ruling junta in 2016.
“I don’t even know what kind of government we have here,” Than Win said.
“This government has said that it is a democratic government, but it is like one that operates counter to democracy.”
Earlier this month, the UN human rights office said military and government officials in the country have waged a “political campaign” against independent journalism through the arrests and prosecution of vague and overly broad laws.
The UN body released a report which included the high-profile incident involving Reuters Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Seo Oo, who were sentenced to seven years prison for violating a local law on state secrets during their probe into the massacre of 10 men from the Rohingya minority.
The report entitled “The Invisible Boundary – Criminal prosecutions of journalism in Myanmar”, which examined freedom of the press since Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) came to power in 2015, said it had become “impossible for journalists do to their job without fear or favour”.
Both men were nabbed in December last year, later claiming trial to accusations of being in possession of secret documents belonging to the government. During trial, they told the court the papers were handed to them by two police officials at a restaurant in Yangon, moments before they were arrested.
Reporters Without Borders estimates that around 20 journalists were prosecuted last year in Burma.
Despite international criticisms, Suu Kyi said last week that the sentencing of the two Reuters reporters has “nothing to do with their freedom of expression”, adding there has been no “miscarriage of justice”.
“They were not jailed because they were journalists… well sentence has been passed on to them because the courts have decided that they have broken the Official Secrets Act,” she said during an international economic forum in Vietnam.
“So if we believe in the rule of law, they have every right to appeal the judgement and to point out why the judgement is wrong if they consider it wrong.”