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RSF supports Free Burma VJs Campaign

(RSF/IFEX) - The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) news organisation marked World Press Freedom Day on 3 May with the launch of a campaign to free its 17 jailed video journalists (VJs), all of whom are serving lengthy sentences in prisons across the country.

The launch of the Free Burma VJ Campaign comes less than two months after Burma's new government was sworn in, supposedly hailing the beginning of Burma's transition to civilian rule. But the ongoing incarceration of journalists, who are among the nearly 2,100 political prisoners in Burma, and the absence of any evidence that the government is moving to free them are clear signs that little has changed since the ostensible end to military rule.

"Burma's new president declared his intention to build a 'clean government' – how can we judge a government as 'clean' when they continue to arrest journalists who relay the voices of the public and opposition?" said DVB's Executive Director, Aye Chan Naing.

Burma is widely recognised as having one of the world's most repressive media environments, and consistently ranks at the tail end of global press freedom indexes. More than 25 media workers are behind bars in the country. Some, such as DVB reporter Hla Hla Win, are serving sentences of 27 years.

Exiled Burmese news groups such as DVB feed off networks of underground journalists inside the country. Their work is dangerous, but provides a crucial window into one of the world's most hermetic states.

"Censorship is one the main priorities of the regime," said Aye Chan Naing. "They spend a lot of money controlling the media to get maximum impact from their own propaganda. Inevitably, independent journalists become their target."

In the past six months, two more DVB VJs have been jailed: 21-year-old Sithu Zeya was handed an eight-year sentence in December last year after police caught him photographing the aftermath of the April 2010 grenade attacks in Rangoon.

Under torture, Sithu Zeya confessed that his father, Maung Maung Zeya, had led a team of VJs inside the country. Maung Maung Zeya was arrested and sentenced in February this year to 13 years in prison. They join Ngwe Soe Lin, jailed for 13 years in 2009 for his role filming for the award-winning Channel 4 documentary, Orphans of Burma's Cyclone, and Win Maw, a senior DVB reporter sentenced to 17 years.

"The poor conditions of Burmese prisons are well known and we are very worried about their mental and physical well being," Aye Chan Naing said. "They should not be in prison in the first place. We call on the international community, particularly ASEAN leaders, to use every opportunity they have to demand the release of journalists in Burma."

The launch of this campaign was made possible by financial support of Reporters Without Borders and the European Union through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).

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