Myanmar jails photojournalist for 20 years on first day of closed trial

Sai Zaw Thaike was arrested in the western state of Rakhine while covering the aftermath of Cyclone Mocha.

Myanmar photojournalist Sai Zaw Thaike is seen working at his laptop. He is sitting at a desk.
Myanmar photojournalist Sai Zaw Thaike works for independent outlet Myanmar Now [Myanmar Now/Handout via Reuters]

A court in military-ruled Myanmar has jailed a photojournalist for 20 years, the longest-known prison term for a media professional since the 2021 coup.

The Myanmar Now news outlet said the verdict and sentence were handed down on Wednesday – the first day of Sai Zaw Thaike’s trial inside Yangon’s Insein prison.

He was arrested in western Rakhine state while he was reporting for Myanmar Now on the fallout from Cyclone Mocha, which killed dozens of people in late May, and he faced four charges, including breaching a natural disaster law and a telecommunications law.

Myanmar Now editor-in-chief Swe Win said all of Sai Zaw Thaike’s colleagues were saddened by the lengthy sentence.

“His sentencing is yet another indication that freedom of the press has been completely quashed under the military [government’s] rule, and shows the hefty price independent journalists in Myanmar must pay for their professional work,” he said in a statement.

Myanmar Now said it was not clear what charges Sai Zaw Thaike had been convicted of. He had been held without access to a lawyer or family visits ahead of the trial.

Myanmar was plunged into turmoil after the military seized power in a coup in February 2021 removing the government of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The power grab sparked a civil disobedience movement and mass rallies, which evolved into an armed uprising after the military responded to the protests with lethal force.

Thousands have also been imprisoned for opposing the coup, while independent media outlets such as Myanmar Now had their licences revoked soon after the generals seized power.

Myanmar ranks 173 out of 180 in the latest World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.

According to the watchdog’s latest figures, 69 journalists are currently imprisoned in Myanmar.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies