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Burma: Persecution of journalists continues ahead of World Press Freedom Day

Paris, Bangkok, 2 May 2014: The Burmese government must end the persecution of journalists and release all five reporters currently jailed in the country, FIDH and its member organization Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma) said today.

The increasing persecution of journalists under President Thein Sein is reminiscent of the ways in which the military junta behaved under Senior General Than Shwe,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. The international community must realize that renewed pressure is needed in order to prevent the further deterioration of freedom of expression in Burma,” he added.

On 26 April, authorities in Prome, Pegu Division, charged Mizzima News reporter Yae Khe for organizing a demonstration that called for greater press freedom in Burma and the release of the five journalists currently imprisoned in the country. Authorities accused him of organizing the protest without obtaining the authorities’ prior permission – a violation of Article 18 of the Peaceful Gathering and Demonstration Law. The charges against Yae Khe are the latest in a series of events that clearly illustrate that media repression in Burma has increased.

On 7 April, a court in Magwe, Magwe Division, sentenced Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) video journalist Zaw Pe to one year in prison on charges of trespassing and disturbing a civil servant on duty. In actual fact, Zaw Pe was imprisoned for conducting an interview about a scholarship program at the Magwe Division Education Department in August 2012.

On 31 January and on 1 February, police arrested four Unity Weekly reporters, Lu Maw Naing, Yarzar Oo, Paing Thet Kyaw, and Sithu Soe and Unity Weekly CEO Tint San on charges that they violated the outdated 1923 Official Secrets Act. The arrests came in response to a 25 January article published by the Unity Weekly, which claimed that the country’s military had a secret chemical weapons factory in Pauk Township, Magwe Division. The trial of the four journalists and CEO began in Pakokku District Court, Magwe Division on 17 March. If convicted, they could face up to 14 years in jail.

On 17 December 2013, a court in Loikaw Township, Karenni State, sentenced Eleven Media Group (EMG) reporter Ma Khine to three months in prison on various charges, including defamation, in connection with an investigation she conducted into allegations of corruption in October 2013.

After a short reprieve, the harassment, arrest, and imprisonment of journalists in Burma have resumed. If President Thein Sein’s administration is serious about pursuing democratic reforms, it must immediately and unconditionally release all five detained journalists. The authorities must cease all acts of harassment against the media and allow journalists to do their job without hindrance, obstruction or intimidation,” said ALTSEAN-Burma Coordinator and FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard.

The crackdown on journalists comes amid the adoption of new media legislation that failed to remove all obstacles to a free press. The Printing and Publishing Law, adopted by Parliament on 4 March, replaced the draconian 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act and removed prison terms for violators of the law. However, the new law authorizes the Information Ministry to grant and revoke publishing licenses and bans the publication of material that “insults” religion, undermines the “rule of law” or harms ethnic unity. Authorities had used similar overly broad expressions to prosecute journalists under the former military regime.

Press contact

Debbie Stothard (English) - Tel: +66 81 6861652 (Bangkok)