Myanmar authorities must withdraw new terrorism charges and release detained journalist Htet Aung: CPJ News
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Myanmar authorities must withdraw new terrorism charges and release detained journalist Htet Aung: CPJ

Myanmar authorities charged detained Development Media Group journalist Htet Aung with terrorism but did not inform his family and lawyers until May, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Thursday as it urged authorities to withdraw all charges and release Htet Aung. According to the editor-in-chief of Development Media Group, Htet Aung is held in pre-trial detention in Sittwe Prison in Rakhine, Myanmar.

Htet Aung was charged with terrorism under section 52(a) of The Counter Terrorism Law in January, in addition to his pre-existing defamation charge under section 65 of The Telecommunications Law. Both charges impose maximum penalties of seven and five years in prison, respectively. He faces a maximum of 12 years in prison if convicted of both charges.

Senior Southeast Asia representative of CPJ Shawn Crispin called on Myanmar authorities to release Htet Aung from detention. He said:

Myanmar authorities must cease their senseless legal persecution of Development Media Group reporter Htet Aung and set him free immediately. Myanmar must stop leveling terrorism charges against journalists for merely doing their jobs of reporting the news.

Htet Aung was arrested on October 29, 2023. On the same day of his arrest, soldiers, special branch officials and the police raided the news agency’s bureau and confiscated cameras and documents before cordoning the building. The staff of the agency also went into hiding.

Development Media Group specializes in reporting on news in Rakhine, where Myanmar’s ruling junta is challenged. UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews previously warned that the junta’s attacks impacted Myanmar’s minority Rohingya Muslim community to the largest extent. The majority of the Rohingya community lives in Rakhine, where at least 23 Rohingya were killed in the bombing of a village there.

The CPJ’s 2023 prison census revealed Myanmar as the second-highest jailer of journalists. The CPJ stated that journalists were often imprisoned without being told the charges against them and faced dangerous conditions in retaliation for their work. UNESCO termed the dangerous conditions journalists face as “zones of silence.” According to UNESCO, zones of silence are generally created when threats of “physical attack, detention, the confiscation of equipment or denial of access to reporting sites” arise. These threats have caused large numbers of journalists to flee the areas or stop working. On February 16, the CPJ urged the Myanmar government to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of Democratic Voice of Burma journalist Myat Thu Tan’s killing. The body of Myat Thu Tan bore signs of torture when it was reportedly found buried in a bomb shelter in a Rakhine military camp.