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US raises concern over journalists' arrests in Burma

Pyay Te Maung/Mizzima News

Recent arrests of journalists in Myanmar have raised doubts about the government's commitment to freedom of the press, says a senior US State Department official.

"In the past few months, the United States has watched with concern the arrest and sentencing of journalists trying to cover stories," said the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Richard Stengel.

"These arrests raise questions about the extent of the government's commitment to freedom of the press," Mr Stengel was quoted as saying in a press release issued by the US embassy on April 30, 2014.

The release followed a visit to Myanmar by Mr Stengel on April 28 and 29, on his first overseas trip as Under Secretary, during which his itinerary included meetings with government ministers and journalists.

Mr Stengel discussed bilateral relations, press freedom and cultural exchanges at meetings in Nay Pyi Taw with Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin, Minister of Information U Aung Kyi and Minister of Culture U Aye Myint Kyu, the release said.

"In advance of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, I met with local journalists to discuss the current media environment and the importance of freedom of expression," Mr Stengel said in the release.

He acknowledged that the government had taken important steps "to cultivate an environment conducive to free, fair and independent media, a critical element of a vibrant democracy."

Mr Stengel said that in his talks, he encouraged the government and the media to work together to create an environment where access to good, accurate information is guaranteed "and where journalists serve to elevate the public discourse."

A freelance reporter with Mizzima, Ko Yae Khe, was arrested in Pyay on April 26, a day after helping to organise a protest there that called for greater media freedom and the release from jail of six journalists.

Ko Yae Khe was charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Act, which carries a maximum penalty of a year in prison and a fine of K30,000, or both.

He was released after being charged but no date is reported to have been set for a court hearing.

Ko Yae Khe and a DVB reporter, Ko Min Nyo, had been denied permission under the act to hold the protest, in which about 100 people participated, most them journalists.

DVB quoted Ko Min Nyo as saying that only Ko Yae Khe was charged because he was regarded as being the main organiser of the protest march.

Among the six journalists whose release was demanded by the protesters was DVB video journalist U Zaw Pe, who on April 7 was jailed by a court in Magway for seeking information about a scholarship scheme.

U Zaw Pe and co-defendant U Win Myint Hlaing were each sentenced to one year in prison for trespassing and interfering with a public servant on duty.

The charges arose from a visit to the Magway Region Education Department to seek an interview about a Japanese-funded scholarship scheme.

U Win Myint Hlaing is the father of a student who was seeking information about the scholarships.

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