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Reporter sentenced to 20 years in prison; junta diversifies censorship

A Burmese video reporter who challenged government policies in her work was sentenced to 20 years in prison on 31 December, report Mizzima News, the South East Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and other IFEX members. The junta has also stepped up its censorship regulations with the military controlling newspaper content, and film and video footage under greater scrutiny, reports Mizzima News.

Hla Hla Win, an undercover broadcast journalist with the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), was arrested in September 2009. She was working on a story connected to the second anniversary of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, in which Buddhist monks participated in countrywide protests against the junta that were brutally suppressed. Win has also covered other sensitive issues like the trial of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. DVB told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that 14 of its undercover reporters were in detention as of December 2009.

Win's assistant, Myint Naing, was also detained and sentenced to 25 years. The two were sentenced to seven years imprisonment at the time of their arrest for using an illegally imported motorcycle. Lawyers are hesitant to represent the two accused because of fear of reprisals by local police and authorities, reports SEAPA. They have been charged with violating the Electronic Act which bans unauthorised use of electronic media. The Act is a way to punish journalists for sending information outside the country, says CPJ.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Thailand-based Burma Media Association (BMA) said: "The very dangerous work carried out by Burma's video reporters, made famous by the documentary Buma VJ, is crucial for the dissemination of independent, propaganda-free information both domestically and abroad. ASEAN and the rest of the international community should make press freedom one of the conditions for recognising the 2010 elections." Burma is a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Since the 2007 Saffron Revolution, security forces have been cracking down on Burmese who send photos and video abroad to exiled news media and opposition groups, reports RSF. "The Irrawaddy" reports that a former military officer and a foreign affairs official were sentenced to death and other foreign affairs officials were sentenced to 20- and 15-year prison terms on 7 January for leaking information and photos about a general's trip to North Korea to exiled news media.

Meanwhile, the junta has also imposed new censorship regulations. As of January 2010, all films and video shot at locations associated with the Burmese Railways have to be submitted to the Myanmar Rail Film and Video Scrutiny Board, reports Mizzima News. The production of all films, video and musical tracks/CDs must be submitted again to the Myanmar Film and Video Censor Board for final approval. This means two separate censor boards control both pre-production and post-production.

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