A Myanmar journalist could face life in prison for publishing an interview with a rebel group operating in the country’s restive Rakhine state, a week after the insurgents were classified as a terrorist organisation.
Nay Myo Lin, editor in chief of the Voice of Myanmar, based in Mandalay, appeared in court on terrorism charges on Tuesday after he ran an interview with a top-ranking Arakan Army (AA) representative on 27 March..
The western region of the country has long been a tinderbox of conflict between the Myanmar military and the AA, a group demanding greater autonomy for the state’s ethnic Rakhine people.
Since January last year scores of civilians have been killed in clashes, hundreds injured, and about 150,000 displaced, with both sides alleging abuse.
Nay Myo Lin’s report was published after the government declared on 23 March that it had classified the the insurgents as a “terrorist group”.
“I was accused under two charges of the counter-terrorism law,” he told reporters after leaving the court in Mandalay.
The charges, which cover violations including allowing terrorist groups to spread fear, gather or hide, were filed by the special branch, Myanmar’s intelligence arm, he said. They carry penalties ranging from three years to life in prison.
“This is disturbing for press freedom,” said the journalist, who previously worked for the BBC’s Burmese-language news service.
His wife, Zarni Mann, a reporter with the independent local news outlet The Irrawaddy, said her husband’s laptop had been seized. She decried the use of counter-terrorism laws against journalists.
Myanmar has been criticised in the past for the high-profile jailing of two Reuters journalists, who were convicted in 2018 of breaching a law on state secrets after they revealed a massacre of Rohingya Muslims.
They were eventually freed by presidential pardon after more than a year in jail.
Myanmar is ranked 138 out of 180 countries for press freedom by the campaign group Reporters Without Borders.