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Comedian, journalist sentenced to additional prison time under Electronic Law

(Mizzima/IFEX) - Internet users in Burma have claimed that they feel threatened when surfing the Web as a result of the long prison terms given to those charged under the Electronic Law.

This came on the heels of the long jail sentences recently meted out to dissidents. Blogger Nay Phone Latt, comedian Zarganar and sports columnist Zaw Thet Htwe were each given up to 45 years in prison for alleged violations of the Electronic Law.

Zarganar was sentenced to an additional 14 years in prison after four more cases against him were heard in the notorious Insein prison court on 27 November 2008. The initial sentence of 45 years in prison was meted out on 21 November.

Sports writer Zaw Htet Htwe, who was arrested for helping victims of cyclone Nargis in the Irrawaddy delta, was sentenced to four more years in prison, with his jail term now totalling 19 years.

"I feel very much upset. Now we have to delete everything after sending our emails and files. They (the regime) should not punish the people just for using the Internet. They themselves are also using the Internet," a blogger from Burma said on condition of anonymity.

Zarganar still found the courage to crack a joke during his sentencing.

Zarganar's sister-in-law Ma Nyein quoted him as having said, "I am being sentenced to 45 years in prison for three 'I' charges and I was sent to Insein prison for using the Internet to study IT."

An editor of a weekly journal said he and his colleagues are now treading on dangerous ground, as the Internet is a critical tool for their daily work.

"(Surfing the web) has become dangerous. Media personnel have to visit online news websites. Of course, it depends on which sites you are visiting. If the sites are legally approved (by the junta), there will be no problem," he said, adding that they visit only approved websites.

The Electronic Law has become one of the principal instruments used by the military regime to quell the opposition. The law, which addresses the dissemination of news that allegedly tarnishes the image of the authorities, provides for long prison terms.

San Moe Wei, secretary general of the Thailand-based Burma Media Association (BMA), said that most of the people given long prison terms under this law were framed by the authorities. This law, he said, is being abused to intimidate Internet users.

"This is a repressive law designed to suppress and intimidate dissidents, journalists and political activists who wish to see political change," he said.

Yet, he said there are still individuals who will defy the repressive law and its harsh prison terms.

"Whatever they do to intimidate us, we will continue with our work - work that should be done," a blogger from Burma said.

Three farmers from Natmauk Township in Magwe Division were charged under the Electronic Law in October for lodging a complaint with the International Labor Organisation regarding the seizure of their farmlands.

Updates the Zarganar and Zaw Thet Htwe cases:

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