Journalist Arrests – Burma Sliding Back To “Dark Days”

A human rights advocacy group based in Britain has launched a campaign demanding the British Government intervene to secure the release of a jailed journalist in Burma.

Burma Campaign UK has demanded that Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, “personally intervene” to secure the release of the Democratic Voice of Burma journalist, Zaw Pe, who was sentenced to one year imprisonment after being charged with “trespassing” and “disturbing a civil servant.”

Zaw Pe, a video journalist, had been working alongside colleague Win Myint Hlaing, on gaining an interview at Magwe Division’s Education Department in August 2012 about qualification criteria for a Japanese funded scholarship program. The government official at the department refused to answer questions, and following the visit the two journalists were charged with trespassing, and disturbing a civil servant at the department, under Sections 353 and 448 of the Penal Code.

On April 7 both journalists were found guilty of the offences and sentenced to one year in jail.

Zaw Pe 41, who has a wife and a two year-old son, had been arrested for his work as a journalist previously. In May 2010 he was jailed for three years for “unauthorized filming,” he was released in 2012.

Burma Campaign UK questioned why Britain’s government had pledged $34 million in aid to Burma’s government while the country still imprisoned journalists.

“Burma Campaign UK is asking supporters and the public to email the Foreign Secretary asking to directly raise the case of Zaw Pe with the Burmese Foreign Minister, and to warn him that arresting journalists and refusing to release all political prisoners will result in the British government starting to withdraw financial, technical and political support it is providing to the Burmese government,” Burma Campaign UK said in a statement.

Wai Hnin, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK warned that jailing journalists was exactly the kind of behavior conducted during Burma’s recent authoritarian past. “Burma is slipping back to the dark days of throwing journalists into jail,” he said, “If the international community don’t take a strong stand, President Thein Sein will think he can get away with jailing journalists, and more will be arrested. William Hague needs to get on the phone and make it clear to the Burmese government that jailing Zaw Pe is completely unacceptable and he must be released immediately.”

The media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders stated on its website that Burma’s reforms were being undermined by attacks on media freedoms.

“The widespread euphoria generated by the successive amnesties of political prisoners in October 2011 and January 2012 has evaporated. The government is struggling to resolve sectarian and ethnic conflicts. With more freedom to speak out, civil society is complaining about the authorities.”

The imprisonment of Zaw Pe is the latest in a series of arrests and imprisonments of journalists in Burma. Human Rights Watch has noted that Burma’s government had arrested at least eight journalists since December 2013. In addition, more than 100 human rights activists and journalists are currently facing charges under Burma’s draconian protest laws, which prohibit protest without official permission – Breaking the law, known as the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession law, can lead to a one-year prison sentence and heavy fines.

Burma is ranked 145 out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders 2014 World Press Freedom Index.

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