International media groups slam jailing

REPORTERS Without Borders said in a statement that the imposition of a two-year jail sentences of a court in the Rangoon suburb of Padeban, Burma, on each of the five members of the weekly Bi Mon Te Nay’s staff, on October 16, this year was “out of all proportion and constitutes a serious violation of media freedom.”

“It shows that Burma’s current authorities have no intention of abandoning the former military government’s repressive legislation and using the new legislation, which shows more respect for freedom of information,” Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia desk said in an emailed statement, Wednesday.

Thursday last week, the Pabedan Township Court in Rangoon ruled that Bi Mon Te Nay reporter Kyaw Zaw Hein, editors Win Tin and Aung Thant, and publishers Yin Min Tun and Kyaw Min Khaing violated the country’s criminal code Article 505(b)—an anti-state provision that broadly bars defamation of the state, a report by The Irrawaddy reads.

The defamation charges were based on a front-page story of Bi Mon Te Nay on July 7 that reported an activist group’s statement which claimed that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic group leaders had formed an interim government to replace Burmese President Thein Sein.

Reporters Without Borders quoted Kyaw Zaw Hein as saying at the end of the trial: “this is totally unfair and if the country wants to change into a democracy, it needs press freedom.” The group added that the journalists’ legal counsels will appeal the decision.

Founded as Reporters Sans Frontieres in Montpellier, France, in 1985, the organization is registered as a non-profit organization in France since 1995 and holds a consultant status at the United Nations and UNESCO. It currently covers news in five continents through its network of over 150 correspondents in 10 offices and sections worldwide.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), on the other hand, also demanded the immediate release of the five journalists.

“How many journalists must be imprisoned before the international community recognizes that Burmese President Thein Sein’s democratic reform program is a complete and utter sham,” CPJ Southeast Asia representative Shawn Crispin said.

A research by CPJ shows that after a period of liberalization in 2012—where at least 12 imprisoned journalists were released and prior restraint on newspapers halted—the Thein Sein administration has backslided in resuming the previous junta’s suppressive policies towards the press.

It can be recalled that on July 10, this year, a Burmese court sentenced the four journalists and its chief executive officer of an independent news journal Unity to 10 years of hard labor in prison for reporting on a secretive military installation in Burma’s central Magwe region.

Founded in 1981 by a group of American correspondents, the CPJ is an independent, non-profit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide.

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