A court in Myanmar has sentenced photojournalist Sai Zaw Thaike to 20 years in prison with hard labor for his coverage of the aftermath of a deadly cyclone in May. Sai Zaw Thaike, a photographer for the independent online news service Myanmar Now, was convicted by a military tribunal in the western state of Rakhine. The sentencing is believed to be the most severe for any journalist detained since the military coup in February 2021. Myanmar Now reported that Sai Zaw Thaike was denied legal representation and family visits during the trial.
The charges against Sai Zaw Thaike included treason, sedition, incitement, spreading false news, agitating against the government or military, online defamation, and violating a Natural Disaster Management law. The specific charges covered by Wednesday’s conviction remain unknown. Myanmar Now Editor-in-Chief Swe Win stated that the sentencing further demonstrates the suppression of press freedom under the military junta’s rule.
Sai Zaw Thaike was arrested on May 23 in the capital of Rakhine state while documenting the damage caused by Cyclone Mocha, the country’s most destructive storm in a decade. The cyclone resulted in widespread flash floods, power outages, and the deaths of at least 148 people, many of whom were Rohingya Muslims living in displacement camps.
Myanmar Now is one of the media outlets that have faced crackdowns by the military-installed government. Thirteen media organizations, including Myanmar Now, have had their licenses revoked, and at least 156 journalists have been arrested, with approximately 50 still detained. Four media workers have been killed, and others have been subjected to torture while in custody.
The conviction of Sai Zaw Thaike highlights the ongoing assault on press freedom in Myanmar. Despite the challenges faced, Myanmar Now’s Editor-in-Chief Swe Win affirmed their commitment to providing news and information to the people of Myanmar.