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BURMA ACTION GROUP DEMANDS RELEASE OF JOURNALISTS

The Burma Action Group, made up of 22 members and partners of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), is appealing to international bodies to pressure for the immediate release of Burmese dissidents being held on "trumped up" charges by the Burmese junta.

Journalist Zaw Thet Htwe and the popular comedian-activist Zarganar were arrested in June, following their involvement in private relief efforts for victims of Cyclone Nargis, which hit Burma in May. 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.

Both men had spoken out on the strife inside Burma in the wake of the cyclone. They face charges of violating the Unlawful Associations Act and "injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult religion". Zarganar is also accused of breaching Burma's Video Act and Sections of the Electronics Act, while Thet Htwe also faces a charge of "inducing crimes against public tranquillity".

If found guilty Zarganar and Thet Htwe could face up to 15 years in prison.

Zarganar has been arrested five times since 1988. Thet Htwe was first arrested in 2003 for writing about corruption among sports authorities.

"The UN and ASEAN must adopt a harder stance against the Burmese junta, demanding the unconditional release of all political prisoners for starters, and more direct access to Burmese communities," Alampay told Mizzima News.

"The target of the statement is actually the international community and the neighbours of Burma. The junta has a thick skin, and few have delusions that they can be reasoned with. But the international and regional communities must themselves be shamed into doing more to free the people of Burma," said Alampay.

Visit these links:
- Joint letter: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/96522
- Mizzima News: http://tinyurl.com/69kjog
- IFEX Burma page: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/145/
- "The Irrawaddy": http://www.irrawaddy.org/
(3 September 2008)

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