The conviction and harsh sentencing of journalist Danny Fenster by a military court in Yangon today following a closed door, unfair trial is emblematic of the wider plight of journalists in Myanmar who have been facing constant repression since the 1 February military coup, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said.
At least 126 journalists, media officials or publishers have been detained by the military since 1 February, of whom 47 remain in detention. Twenty of these individuals have been charged with crimes because of their work as journalists. Nine media outlets have had their licences revoked and 20 others have had to suspend operations. Dozens of journalists reportedly remain in hiding due to outstanding arrest warrants.
Fenster was detained at Yangon airport in May, and was on Friday sentenced to 11 years in prison allegedly for violating laws relating to unlawful association, immigration and for sowing dissent against the military. He was tried by an ad hoc court inside Insein prison in Yangon, with the proceedings closed to any public scrutiny, raising serious concerns of lack of respect of fair trial guarantees. He still faces a second trial on charges of high treason and violations of the counter-terrorism law.
“Journalists have been under attack since 1 February, with the military leadership clearly attempting to suppress their attempts to report on the serious human rights violations being perpetrated across Myanmar as well as the extent of opposition to the regime,” Bachelet said. “Myanmar has quickly reverted to an environment of information control, censorship and propaganda seen under military regimes in the past.”
“Attacks on journalists and the media further exacerbate the vulnerability of huge sections of society that rely on accurate and independent information. With the crackdowns on journalists, Internet shutdowns, restrictions on free access to online and other data sources, people are being deprived life-saving information,” Bachelet added.
“I urge the military authorities to immediately release all journalists being detained in relation to their work,” she said.