On January 10, a Myanmar military court closed to the public sentenced award-winning documentary filmmaker Shin Daewe to life in prison on trumped-up terrorism charges. Her conviction and harsh sentencing is the latest example of the Myanmar junta’s relentless persecution of the media.
Police arrested Shin Daewe, 50, on October 15 after finding her with an aerial drone. Though drones are often used by journalists, their possession is illegal in Myanmar. She was charged under Myanmar’s draconian Counterterrorism Law of 2014 – which the junta has sharpened into a tool of oppression – for “financing and abetting terrorism,” and received the maximum punishment, characteristic of the junta-controlled courts.
Speaking to local media, Shin Daewe’s husband said that the police held her for almost two weeks in an unknown location before transferring her to Yangon’s Insein prison. He said that prison sources told him she appeared to have welts and bruises on her arms and stitches on her head, which suggested she was badly beaten in custody.
Other journalists have been convicted in summary trials since the junta seized power in a February 2021 coup. On September 6, 2023, a military tribunal convicted a Myanmar Now journalist on various charges including sedition and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Military authorities arrested Sai Zaw Thaike, 40, in Rakhine State on May 26 as he covered the aftermath of Cyclone Mocha.
Like Shin Daewe, Sai Zaw Thaike was held in Insein prison and denied access to legal representation, in violation of basic international due process standards. Both journalists were sentenced by military tribunals in closed proceedings.
In violation of the right to freedom of expression, Myanmar junta members have repeatedly attacked the media for independent or critical reporting. The rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reported that the military continues to wrongfully detain at least 61 journalists among the more than 19,900 people it has rounded up since the coup.
The unfair trials and cruel sentences handed down to Shin Daewe and Sai Zaw Thaike are part of a broader effort to instill fear in the junta’s critics, suppress independent coverage, and deny the reality of the military’s serious and ongoing rights violations.
The junta should immediately release Shin Daewe, Sai Zae Thaike, and others wrongfully convicted for their journalism, and allow a free media to flourish.