A former BBC television presenter and freelance journalist in Myanmar was sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor on Wednesday by a military regime court in Yangon for violating the country’s Unlawful Associations Act, bringing her total time in jail to six years, a source in the legal community said.
Htet Htet Khine, the face of BBC Media Action’s national television program “Khan Sar Kyi” (“Feel It”) from 2016 to 2020, which documented the impact of war on Myanmar society, received the new sentence from Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township Court for violating the colonial-era law.
“She was sentenced to three years in prison and fined 10,000 kyats (U.S. $4.70) under Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act,” said the source, who has knowledge of the situation but did not want to be identified for safety reasons. “If she fails to pay the monetary fine, that would mean another six months imprisonment.
“She was charged under Section 17(1) the Unlawful Associations Act because it appeared as though she had worked as a volunteer for the opposition group, the NUG,” said the source, referring to the National Unity Government, a Myanmar government-in-exile formed by a group of elected lawmakers and members of Parliament ousted in the February 2021 Myanmar coup.
“They seemed to charge her under this act because she had talked in the media,” added the source.
Htet Htet Khine, a freelance journalist and video producer, has been detained in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison since Aug. 15, 2021, when she was arrested with fellow reporter Sithu Aung Myint.
She was charged with “incitement” and “illegal association” for her reporting work, her family members and legal team told RFA in an earlier report.
Myint Kyaw, former secretary of the Myanmar Press Council during the previous civilian-led government, said the ruling military regime targeted Htet Htet Khine because she is a journalist.
“The federal FM radio has been declared an outlawed association and contact with it is deemed as a violation of Section 17(1),” he said. “She was given three years in prison, which is the maximum punishment under that law.”
“At first she was charged under Section 505(a) and was now given the punishment under 17(1) intentionally as a targeted person,” Myint Kyaw said. Section 505 (a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code pertains to defamation of the state.
Nathan Maung, a Myanmar-born American journalist who was detained and sentenced to prison by the military junta a week after the military takeover, said the junta is targeting journalists for merely doing their jobs.
“When you are working as a professional journalist, you have to talk to people of all trades,” he told RFA. “Talking to a person on the telephone should not be taken as contacting an illegal organization or an illegal association.
“They [the junta] will always file any kind of charges in any way they want,” he said. “Their sole intention is to arrest or imprison people from the news media.
“I deeply respect these Myanmar journalists and reporters who are working so hard inland or at the border risking their lives to get their job done,” Nathan Maung said. “It is not safe even for an ordinary person talking on a telephone nowadays, so I’d like to suggest that journalists take extra care in carrying out their work at a time when journalists, including Htet Htet Khine, are being given heavy sentences.”
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