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Prison court sentences blogger to 20 years, poet gets two-year sentence

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association are appalled by the combined sentence of 20 years and six months in prison passed on 10 November 2008 by a special court in Insein prison on blogger Nay Phone Latt. The poet Saw Wai was sentenced to two years in prison for a poem containing a coded criticism of Gen. Than She, head of the military junta.

"The authorities have imposed an extraordinarily severe punishment on Nay Phone Latt just for using the Internet," the two organisations said. "This shocking sentence is meant to terrify those who go online in an attempt to elude the dictatorship's absurd control of news and information, and we call for his immediate release. Saw Wai, for his part, is being made to pay for his impertinence and courage as a committed poet."

The two organisations added: "There is an urgent need now for bloggers all over the world to demonstrate their solidarity with Nay Phone Latt by posting his photo on their blogs and by writing to Burmese embassies worldwide to request his release. Similarly, we call on poets to defend their fellow-poet, Saw Wai, who has been jailed just because of one poem."

The total sentence of 20 years and six months imposed on Nay Phone Latt by judge Daw Soe consisted of two years for violating Article 505 (b) of the Criminal Code (which punishes defamation of the state), three years and six months for violating Article 32 (b) of the Video Act and 15 years for violating Article 33 (a) of the Electronic Act.

Nay Phone Latt's mother, who was not allowed to attend the trial inside the prison, said: "I was expecting him to get 10 or 12 years in prison at the most. I never imagined he would get this much. The authorities have been excessively cruel with him." The blogger's lawyer was himself jailed for criticising the special court's procedures.

The same judge imposed a two-year sentence on Saw Wai, a romantic poet who was arrested by the military on 22 January, the day after a Valentine's Day poem he wrote was published in the popular weekly "Achit Journal" ("Love Journal"). Read vertically, the first words of each line form the phrase: "A Power Crazy Senior General Than Shwe."

The owner of two Rangoon Internet cafés, Nay Phone Latt, aged 28, was arrested in Rangoon on 29 January in possession of a video that is banned by the military government. He also kept a blog ( ) in which he wrote about the difficulty that young Burmese like himself have had in expressing themselves since the September 2007 protests. He was arrested with several National League for Democracy activists, who were released a few hours later. He was charged on 7 July. Insein prison authorities have not allowed him to be visited by a doctor for the eye problems from which he suffers.

Updates the Nay Phone Latt case:

Updates the Saw Wai case:

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