A journalist has been charged with violating the Terrorism Act for conducting an interview with the Arakan Army (AA) rebel group. Nay Myo Lin, head editor of Voice of Myanmar, was charged after he spoke with officials from the AA, which the government had recently condemned as terrorist organization. His website was also taken down. Leaving the courthouse in Mandalay, where he was charged, Nay Myo Lin told media that he had been accused of two violations of the terrorism law, which could carry a sentence of three years to life in prison. They include allowing terrorists to spread fear and helping them gather and hide.
The charges come on the heels of planned legal action against two media organizations reporting on the conflict with the Arakan Army, which rages in Rakhine State and southern Chin State. In early March, the military announced that it would charge Reuters and the Irrawaddy News with defamation for publishing reports suggesting it was responsible for shelling that killed civilians. Although the army dropped those charges, the conflict continues to be a political thorn in Myanmar’s side. The government seeks to delegitimize the AA and present the conflict as a counter-terrorism operation. It is using the AA’s recent hostage-taking operations and reports of looting, forced labor and executions against civilians to support that version of the story. However, efforts to block media engagement with the AA would result in accusations of state censorship and suppression of free speech. The government would risk a repeat of the 2018 case in which two Reuters journalists were sentenced to prison for reporting on the Rakhine refugee crisis.