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Deportation of Australian journalist from Burma heightens concerns about media rights

Myanmar deported an Australian journalist working for the news website Democratic Voice of Burma on May 8, 2014 after he covered a demonstration calling for the release of a jailed DVB reporter, as concerns grow about media rights in the former junta-run nation.

Angus Watson, 24, flew out of Yangon late on May 8 for Thailand after authorities accused him of breaching the terms of his business visa by taking part in the protest in Magway, in central Myanmar, on May 7, DVB said.

"Immigration authorities considered he was part of the protest, but it is totally untrue - he was not part of the demonstration. He was covering it," said DVB deputy executive director Khin Maung Win.

"We are so concerned about this. We will demand documentation and an explanation from the government," he told AFP, adding that no written information on the deportation was provided by the authorities.

The protest in Magway called for the release of DVB video journalist Zaw Pe, who on April 7 was sentenced by a court in the Magway Region capital to one year in jail for trespassing and "disturbing a civil servant", in a case that has alarmed rights groups.

Khin Maung Win said DVB appreciated how much restrictions had been eased on the media since the end of military rule in 2011, but said he feared "they are taking back some of our freedom".

In 2012 it abolished the draconian pre-publication censorship system, which had stifled newspapers, books and even song lyrics.

The easing of restrictions on the media has resulted in many publications being launched, including the first daily private sector newspapers.

Under the junta, the only daily newspapers were state-run.

But there are rising fears that progress on media freedom has stalled.

Human Rights Watch released a statement on May 3 highlighting fears over the arrest and "intimidation" of journalists, as well as "vague" new press laws which it said could inhibit reporting.

"This serious backsliding raises concerns about the government's commitment to a free press," said HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.

Zaw Pe was jailed, along with the father of a student, over a visit to an education department office in Magway toseek information about a scholarship program.

The case has sparked protests and widespread concern among media organisations and journalists in Myanmar.

Myanmar ranked 145th of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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