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Thirty-seven IFEX members call attention to the plight of 17 journalists, bloggers and artists who remain detained in Burmese prisons

(Mizzima News/SEAPA/IFEX) - 31 May 2011 - Free expression advocates from around the world gathered this week in Beirut, Lebanon, at the 16th IFEX General Meeting. Thirty-seven IFEX members signed on to the following letter to Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion:

Open letter to Mr. Frank La Rue
UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 917 9006
Email: [email protected]

Mizzima News and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), together with the undersigned members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), call your attention to the 17 journalists, bloggers and artists who remain detained in the prisons of Burma.

Even though a new government has been formed in Burma after the elections in November 2010, there is still no guarantee of improvements in the country's media environment.

President Thein Sein made promises to respect the media as an important institution, but little has changed as the regime has kept a tight control over the media and expression, while thousands still languish in jail as political prisoners, among whom are the 17 journalists, bloggers and artists.

A recent report by Freedom House, a US democracy and rights watchdog, placed Burma on the list of the 10 worst countries for violating media freedom, near North Korea at the bottom. The Committee to Protect Journalists has described Burma as the worst place to be a blogger. In its 2011 forecast for freedom of expression, SEAPA raised concerns over the sincerity of the elected government to loosen its grip on the media.

Laws such as the Penal Code, Immigration Emergency Powers Act, Electronic Law and the Unlawful Associations Act are conveniently used against journalists, bloggers and artists on the grounds of committing crimes, where in reality they are used to suppress freedom of expression.

"For example, the authorities arrested some of them for being associated with 'exile' organisations. They arrested others for crossing the border to Thailand to interact with other Burmese in 'exile', etc.

"That's why Burmese government officially say there are no 'prisoners of conscience' or 'political prisoners' and that all of them are 'criminals', arrested under criminal charges. The reality is these various laws are used to arrest them and to suppress the freedom of expression," said Mizzima News editor-in-chief Soe Myint.

The Democratic Voice of Burma, a media group in exile, launched a campaign on World Press Freedom Day this year for the release of its video journalists by mobilising international support.

SEAPA executive director Gayathry Venkiteswaran said the international community must continue to demand better observance of human rights standards and practices from the Burmese government.

"Political development cannot happen if the media and critical voices are suppressed. As media freedom advocates, we must be critical of the situation in the country post-elections, and call for the release of the jailed journalists as a first step towards improving the state of media freedom in the country."

Given the above, we, the undersigned:

• Call on the newly-formed government in Burma to prove its sincerity in improving the political situation in the country by releasing these men and women, and exonerate them of the violations with which they were charged;
• Urge the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Freedom of Opinion and Expression to raise the issue of violations of freedom of expression by the state at the UN Human Rights Council, and communicate the demands to the Burmese Government; and
• Appeal to civil society groups and the international community to mobilise pressure on the Burmese government for the release of the 17 people.

Details of the 17 journalists, bloggers and activists currently imprisoned:

1. Ngwe Soe Lwin, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reporter, recipient of Rory Peck Awards. Prison term: 13 years (since 2009). Convicted under: Section 33(a) of Electronics Act, Section 13(1) of Immigration Emergency Provisions Act.

2. Zeya, aka Thargyi Zeya, writer. Prison term: 13 years (since 2010). Convicted under: Section 17(1) of Unlawful Associations Act, Section 13(1) of Immigration Emergency Provisions Act, Section 33(1) of Electronics Act. Case: Arrested in connection with the explosion of three hand grenades in front of X2O water festival pavillion at the Rangoon Water Festival on April 15, 2010.

3. Sithu Zeya, DVB photojournalist. Prison term: 8 years (since 2010) (other cases pending). Convicted under: Section 17(1) of Unlawful Associations Act, Section 13(1) of Immigration Emergency Provisions Act. Case: Arrested for taking photographs at X2O water festival pavillion when three hand grenades exploded on April 15, 2010.

4. Win Maw, musician, DVB reporter. Prison term: 17 years (since 2007). Convicted under: Section 505(b) of Penal Code (Instigating and disrupting public order and State security), Section 13(1) of Immigration Emergency Provisions Act, Section 33(a) of Electronics Act. Case: Arrested for recording a song written in honour of Aung San Suu Kyi on her birthday, and also accused of having contact with exile news agency DVB.

5. Hla Hla Win, DVB reporter. Organization: DVB news. Prison term: 27 years (since 2009). Convicted under: Section 33(a) of Electronics Act, Section 13(1) of Immigration Emergency Provisions Act, Section 17(1) of Unlawful Associations Act. Case: Arrested for interviewing monks.

6. Zaw Thet Htwe, reporter. Prison term: 11 years (since 2008). Convicted under: Section 505(b) and 295(a) of Penal Code, Sections 33(a) and 38 of Electronics Act. Case: Arrested for helping victims of Cyclone Nargis.

7. Zargana, aka Thura, comedian, film director, blogger. Prison term: 35 years (since 2008). Convicted under: Section 505(b) and 295(a) of Penal Code, Section 33(a) of Electronics Act Case. Arrested while helping Cyclone Nargis victims

8. Thant Zin Aung, photojournalist. Prison term: 10 years (since 2008). Convicted under: Sections 32(b) and 36 of Video Law, 33(a) and 38 of Electronics Act Case. Arrested for helping Cyclone Nargis victims.

9. Nay Phone Latt, aka Nay Myo Kyaw, blogger. Prison term: 12 and half years (first sentenced to 20 years which was later commuted by eight years) (since 2008). Convicted under: Section 505(b) of Penal Code, Section 32(b) and 36 of Video Law, Sections 33(a) and 38 of Electronics Act. Case: Arrested for posting online a caricature of then military leader Than Shwe.

10. Lay Lay Mon, aka Phu Ngone, "Teens" magazine writer. Prison term: 6 years (since 2008). Case: Arrested for joining a protest demonstration against sudden and drastic fuel price hike in 2007.

11. Min Han, poet. Sentence: 11 years (since 2008). Convicted under: Section 4 of Law No. 5/96, Section 505(b) of Penal Code. Case: Arrested for giving assistance to 88-Generation Student Group and All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) during 2007 September Saffron Revolution. He also led the Poets' Union.

12. Nyi Nyi Tun, aka Mee Doke, "Kandaryawaddy News Journal" editor-in-chief , poet. Prison term: 13 years (since 2010). Convicted under: Section 17(1) of Unlawful Associations Act, Section 13(1) of Immigration Emergency Provisions Act, Section 505(b) of Penal Code and Section 6(1) of Wireless and Telegraph Act. Case: Arrested after the October 2009 bomb blasts in Rangoon.

13. Sein Win Maung, aka Win Swe "Myanmar Nation Journal" office manager. Prison term: 7 years (since 2008). Convicted under: Section 17/20 of Printing Act. Case: Arrested for possession of a copy of a Human Rights Report by UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, a book entitled "Let's Build an Unbreakable Union" by Shan leader Shwe Ohn, a documentary video CD of monks demonstrating during the Saffron Revolution in September 2007 when the "Myanmar Nation Journal" office was searched by Military Affairs Security (MAS).

14. Zeya Oo, reporter. Prison term: 7 years (since 2009). Convicted under: Section 505(b) of Penal Code. Case: Arrested for distributing pamphlets with 88-Generation Students calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

15. Myat Tun, "Narinjara News" agency reporter. Prison term: 5 years (since 2009). Convicted under: Section 13(1) of Immigration Emergency Provisions Act. Case: Arrested after crossing the border with Bangladesh and was accused of sending news to exiled news agencies.

16. Thar Tun, Narinjara News reporter. Prison term: 5 years (since 2009). Convicted under: Section 13(1) of Immigration Emergency Provisions Act. Case: Accused of illegal border crossing and contacting Bangladesh-based "Narinjara News" agency.

17. Hla Soe, writer, former political prisoner. Prison term: 17 years (since 2003). Convicted under: Section 5(j) of Emergency Provisions Act, 5(1) Export Import Act and 6(1) Public Property Protection Act. Case: Hla Soe was arrested after a camera and foreign currencies were found and charged for trying to report on the "Depayin Massacre" in 2003 and allegedly sent information to the opposition groups at the Thai-Burmese border.

Mizzima News
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
Aliansi Jurnalis Independen/Alliance of Independent Journalists
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
ARTICLE 19
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
Centre for Independent Journalism - Malaysia
Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala - CERIGUA
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Free Media Movement
Globe International Center
Hong Kong Journalists Association
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
IPS Communication Foundation - Bianet
Maharat Foundation
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Rights Agenda
Media Watch
National Union of Somali Journalists
Norwegian PEN
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión - OLA
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
PEN International
Public Association "Journalists"
South East European Network for Professionalization of Media
Thai Journalists Association

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