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Four journalists among prisoners released by junta

(Mizzima/IFEX) - Four Burmese journalists were among the 7,114 political prisoners released by the military regime on 18 September 2009.

Released were reporter Eint Khaing Oo, of the "Ecovision" journal, and assistant editor Kyaw Kyaw Thant, of the "Weekly Eleven Journal", who had been arrested for reporting on the victims of Cyclone Nargis.

Thet Zin, alias Maung Zin, editor-in-chief of the weekly "Myanmar Nation", who was arrested in February 2008, and Aung Thwin, alias Aung Kyi, the former editor of "90 Minutes Journal", were also freed.

"We were released as part of the amnesty. We learned about it only at 10 a.m. (on 18 September)," Thant told Mizzima.

Thant was charged under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, which covers acts disrespecting the state, and illegally crossing the border under section 13(a) of the Immigration Act. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Oo was charged under section 505(b) of the Penal Code and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Zin was arrested in February 2008 for possessing a video of a crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September of the previous year, as well as a report by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Burma.

Shortly after receiving a seven-year prison sentence in November 2008, Zin was transferred from Insein Prison in Rangoon to a remote prison in Kele, Sagaing Division.

Thwin, on the other hand, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment on November 2007 in the aftermath of the crackdown during the Saffron Revolution in September of that year.

Thant is reportedly suffering from a nerve illness and headaches and is said to be in urgent need of medical treatment. Despite being banned from writing inside the prison, he said he had took careful notes in his mind of everything experienced inside the prison.

"We could read the state-run 'New Light of Myanmar' in prison if we paid Kyat 4,000 per month. As for other journals, we could read them when our families brought them for us," he said.

Oo and Thant were arrested while covering the march of some 30 victims of Cyclone Nargis to the UN office in Rangoon to request aid.

While in prison, Oo was awarded the Alicia Patterson Foundation (APF) and Burma Media Association's (BMA) Kanji Nagai Press Freedom Prize, which was set up in memory of the Japanese photojournalist Kanji Nagai, who was killed by the Burmese Army when it launched a crackdown on the September 2007 monk-led protests.

The award was given in Thailand on 21 February 2009 at the Burma Media Conference (BMC) and was accepted by a journalist friend in exile on Oo's behalf. San Moe Wai, the BMA's secretary general, welcomed the amnesty given to the political prisoners, including the two journalists. "We are happy and we welcome this news. We will be happier if they release all journalists and bloggers as they can release even criminals. These journalists are innocent and are not criminals," he said.
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