Myanmar photojournalist gets 20-year sentence for reporting on cyclone’s aftermath

Bangkok: A court in Myanmar sentenced a photojournalist for an underground news agency to 20 years in prison with hard labour for his coverage of a deadly May cyclone’s aftermath.

According to Kashmir Media Service, the sentence given to Sai Zaw Thaike, a photographer for the independent online news service Myanmar Now, appeared to be the most severe for any journalist detained since the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021.

The press freedom group Reporters without Borders said in April that Myanmar is the world’s second-biggest jailer of journalists, behind only China. The country ranks near the bottom of the group’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index, placing 176th out of 180 countries.

Myanmar Now, which operates underground, reported that a military tribunal tried, convicted and sentenced Sai Zaw Thaike, 40, during the first court hearing since he was detained in the western state of Rakhine.

The proceedings took place inside Insein prison in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, where the photographer was jailed after his arrest. The news agency said Sai Zaw Thaike was allowed no family visits and denied legal representation.

“His sentencing is yet another indication that freedom of the press has been completely quashed under the military junta’s rule, and shows the hefty price independent journalists in Myanmar must pay for their professional work,” the news site quoted Myanmar Now Editor-in-Chief Swe Win as saying.

The news outlet said Sai Zaw Thaike was arrested on May 23 in Rakhine’s capital of Sittwe while recording the damage caused by Cyclone Mocha, the country’s most destructive storm in at least a decade. Mocha made landfall near Sittwe just over a week before his arrest and caused widespread flash floods and power outages.

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