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Fifteen IFEX members and other organisations appeal to international bodies to raise cases of jailed journalist, comedian and other activists with Burmese junta

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The following is a joint appeal by 15 IFEX members and other organisations that make up the Burma Action Group:

Secretary General H.E. Ban Ki Moon
United Nations
First Avenue at 46th Street
New York, NY 10017
Fax: +1 212 963 7055 / 4879

ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan
The ASEAN Secretariat
70A, Jalan Sisingamangaraja
Jakarta 12110 Indonesia
Fax : +6 221 739 8234 / 724 3504
E-mail: [email protected]

UN Human Rights Rapporteur for Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana
Special Procedures Division
c/o OHCHR-UNOG
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland
Fax : +41 22 917 90 06
E-mail : [email protected]

Honourable Representatives of the UN and ASEAN,

The Burma Action Group, comprising 22 members and partners of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), is calling for swift international action to pressure for the immediate release of Burmese writers, artists, and dissidents being held on trumped up charges by the Burmese junta.

Journalist Zaw Thet Htwe and the influential comedian-activist Zarganar were arrested in June 2008, after involving themselves in relief efforts for victims of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Burma on 2-3 May 2008. On 15 August, both were charged, alongside seven other activists and dissidents, with a range of supposed offences.

"Clearly, the Burmese government is out to silence Zarganar and Zaw Thet Htwe. That is the real reason behind their arrest and trial," said Roby Alampay, Executive Director of SEAPA, a member of the Burma Action Group. Zarganar, in particular, has continued to speak out on strife inside Burma, especially after the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis. Similarly, Zaw Thet Htwe is believed to be the subject of harassment for helping to document the plight of communities hard hit by the disaster.

Zaw Thet Htwe stands accused of "Inducing Crimes Against Public Tranquility", "Injuring or Defiling Place of Worship with Intent to Insult Religion", and violating the Unlawful Associations Act.

Zarganar faces charges of "Injuring or Defiling Place of Worship with Intent to Insult Religion", violating the Unlawful Associations Act, and allegedly breaching Burma's Video Act and Sections of the Electronics Act.

If found guilty Zarganar and Thet Htwe could face up to 15 years in prison. Zarganar has been arrested five times since 1988. Authorities banned him in May 2006 from public performances as well as from directing films.

Zaw Thet Htwe was first arrested in 2003 for writing about corruption among sports authorities. The court meted out the death penalty against him on 28 November 2003. It was later commuted to three years' imprisonment and he was released from prison after serving his sentence.

We draw the UN and ASEAN's attention to the fact that the continued detention of these individuals is without basis, and violates their human rights.

The Burma Action Group further calls on human rights advocates, concerned citizens, and government leaders of nations that subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to write to Burmese embassies in their respective countries to pressure for the immediate and unconditional release of Zarganar and Zaw Thet Htwe. All charges against them must also be dropped. Finally, we appeal to all those concerned to remind the Burmese junta of the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and demand that Burma uphold the values to which the global community subscribes.

Sincerely yours,

ARTICLE 19, UK
Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES), Nepal
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Philippines
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Malaysia
Citizen Lab, Canada
COMUNICA, Uruguay
Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Nepal
Freedom House, USA
Index on Censorship, UK
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Media Support (IMS), Denmark
International News Safety Institute (INSI), Belgium
International Press Institute (IPI), Austria
Mizzima News, India
Norwegian PEN, Norway
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), Pakistan
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Thailand
VIKES Foundation for Media and Development, Finland
World Association of Newspapers (WAN), France
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), USA

Southeast Asian Press Alliance

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