Former Myanmar Colonel Who Once Served as Information Minister Gets 10-Year Prison Term for Sedition

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Myanmar Information Minister Ye Htut talks to journalists during a press briefing at parliament building on Tuesday 18 August 2015, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. (Photo: AP)

BANGKOK (AP) — A former high-profile Myanmar army officer who had served as information minister and presidential spokesperson in a previous military-backed government has been convicted of sedition and incitement, a legal official said Thursday, 30 November. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Ye Htut, a 64-year-old retired lieutenant colonel, is the latest in a series of people arrested and jailed for writing Facebook posts that allegedly spread false or inflammatory news. Once infrequently prosecuted, there has been a deluge of such legal actions since the army seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021.

He was arrested in late October after a military officer from the Yangon Regional Military Command reportedly filed a charge against him, around the time when some senior military officers were purged on other charges, including corruption. He was convicted on Wednesday, according to an official familiar with the legal proceedings who insisted on anonymity for fear of being punished by the authorities.

Ye Htut was the spokesperson from 2013 to 2016 for President Thein Sein in a military-backed government and also the information minister from 2014 to 2016.

After leaving the government in 2016, Ye Htut took on the role of a political commentator, wrote books, and posted articles on Facebook. For a time, he was a visiting senior research fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a center for Southeast Asia studies in Singapore.

After the army’s 2021 takeover, he often posted short personal vignettes and travel essays on Facebook in which he made allusions that were generally recognized to be critical of Myanmar’s current military rulers.

The army’s takeover triggered mass public protests that the military and police responded to with lethal force, triggering armed resistance and violence that escalated into a civil war.

The official familiar with the court proceedings against Ye Htut told The Associated Press that he was sentenced by a court in Yangon’s Insein prison to seven years for sedition and three years for incitement. Ye Htut was accused on the basis of his posts on his Facebook account and did not hire a lawyer to represent him at his trial, the official said.

The sedition charge makes disrupting or hindering the work of defense services personnel or government employees punishable by up to seven years in prison. The incitement charge makes it a crime to publish or circulate comments that cause fear, spread false news, or agitate directly or indirectly for criminal offenses against a government employee—an offense punishable by up to three years in prison.

However, a statement from the Ministry of Legal Affairs said he had been charged under a different sedition statute. There was no explanation for the discrepancy.

According to detailed lists compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a watchdog group based in Thailand, 4,204 civilians have died in Myanmar in the military government’s crackdown on opponents, and at least 25,474 people have been arrested.

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BY GRANT PECK Associated Press