On May 21, the court sentenced Zaw Ye Htet for publishing an article that erroneously stated there had been a Covid-19 death in eastern Karen state. The day the story was posted on May 13, the editor was charged and arrested under section 505(b) of Myanmar’s Penal Code for allegedly publishing information that could “cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public”.
Despite trials in Myanmar often taking months, in unusual circumstances, a week later Zaw Ye Htet’s was promptly convicted. Zaw Ye Htet’s wife, Phyu Phyu Win said: “We’ll appeal this unfair decision”.
Media rights organisations have widely criticised section 505(b) of the Penal Code in the past as a colonial-era law which limits freedom of expression. In 2018, the executive editors of Eleven Media Kyaw Zaw Lin and Mayi Min, and chief reporter Phyo Wai Win were charged under the same section before the government intervened to allow the media council to resolve the case.
While there have only been 199 confirmed cases of COvid-19 and six deaths in Myanmar, reports suggest the numbers are higher due to low numbers of testing.
The IFJ said: “The swift conviction of Zaw Ye Htet purposely avoided interference from the press council in an attempt to curtail justice. The IFJ condemns the conviction and urges authorities to hastily allow for an appeal and have the matter resolved without a criminal conviction or abuse of legal procedures.”