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Imprisoned photojournalist faces extended jail term

(Mizzima/IFEX) - On 9 August 2011, a court in Rangoon rejected an appeal by photojournalist Sithu Zeya, to drop a charge against him under the Electronics Transactions Law for taking pictures of the damage caused by bomb explosions at the Rangoon water festival in 2010, according to family members.

With this additional charge, Sithu Zeya - who is currently serving an eight-year sentence under the Immigration Act and Unlawful Association Act as of December 2010 - faces another seven to 15 years in prison, if the Mingalar Taungnyunt Township Court in Rangoon Region finds him guilty.

In February, the court already sentenced Sithu Zeya's father and a fellow journalist with the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), Maung Maung Zeya, to thirteen years in prison under the same three laws. He was arrested shortly after Sithu Zeya in April 2010. Besides being an underground reporter, Maung Maung Zeya is a political dissident. He is now serving his sentence in the Hsipaw Prison in Northern Shan State, about 560 miles from Rangoon.

Sithu Zeya was charged under Section 33 of the Electronic Transactions Law in June 2010. According to his lawyer, Aye Thein, the judges rejected the appeal in a 9 August 2011 hearing, where Sithu Zeya's mother testified as a witness. A family member told Mizzima that he is now being held in solitary confinement in the Insein Prison after family members reported [allegations] that he had been tortured to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the prison authority. They were told that interrogations have stopped.

Section 33 of the Electronic Transactions Law 2004 prohibits a citizen from disseminating by electronic means any information deemed threatening to the security of the government. Its notoriety was first noticed when it was used along with the Import Export Act to impose a total twenty-year prison sentence on Hla Hla Win, another DVB reporter, in 2009. It was also used to threaten members of the now illegal National League for Democracy (NLD) for posting media statements online.

In July 2011, journalist associations and press freedom advocate groups issued a joint statement calling on the Burmese government to end its routine persecution of journalists, especially when it came to light that Sithu Zeya was tortured in order to force him to admit that Maung Maung Zeya is a fellow underground journalist.

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