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A senior reporter for the Democratic Voice of Burma has been sentenced to 13 years’ in prison on a raft of charges, including violation of Burma’s notorious Electronics Act.
Until his arrest in April last year, Maung Maung Zeya had led a team of video journalists (or VJs) that smuggled footage out of the country to the Oslo-based DVB. His sentencing follows less than two months after that of his son, Sithu Zeya, also a DVB reporter who had been with his father when they were arrested last year.
A Rangoon district court yesterday found Maung Maung Zeya guilty on four charges: the 58-year-old was sentenced to five years’ on two separate violations of the Unlawful Association Act, one year under the Immigration Act for illegal border crossing, and seven years under the Electronics Act.
“There was no solid evidence to convict him under those charges and all the witnesses in the trial were police [prosecutors],” said a relative, Dewa. “I think it was very unfair but this is how it is in our country. They can cite any article in the law to arrest, put on trial and jail someone, and it’s like a tradition.”
Sithu Zeya was given an eight-year sentence in December last year on similar charges. Both were arrested following the deadly April bombings in Rangoon, when they had been caught photographing the aftermath of the attacks.
Shortly after his detention, the 21-year-old was placed in an isolation cell and reportedly tortured. A group of 17 inmates inside Rangoon’s Insein prison went on hunger strike to protest his maltreatment, which has apparently triggered a heart problem.
Dewa said however that Sithu’s father, who becomes the sixteenth DVB reporter to be jailed, appeared healthy when he visited him during the trial, despite having already spent eight months in detention.
“He was calm as he already expected [the sentencing] after he was arrested and he had already prepared for his stay in the prison. He made a list of books, mostly about technology, that he wanted to take into the prison. He plans to run computer courses in prison.”
Family members of the father and son say they will appeal the sentences, although the prospects of success are unlikely given the rarity with which Burmese courts reverse decisions, particularly against what they deem to be the opposition.
A 22-year-old blogger last week had a decade tacked onto a two-year sentence handed down shortly after the Rangoon bomb attack. Although his alleged role in the incident was later dismissed, police discovered that Kaung Myat Hlaing, who blogged under the name of Nat Soe (‘dark angel’) after the September 2007 uprising, had also been involved in various anti-regime poster campaigns.
Burma was recently ranked as the world’s fourth biggest jail for journalists by the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ). It also came 171 out of 175 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index last year.
More than 20 of the nearly 2,200 political prisoners in Burma’s jails are journalists.