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The recent jailing of five media workers from Unity Weekly and the subsequent threats of legal action against reporters by the Burmese government is hindering the free press in the lead-up to the upcoming 2015 national elections, representatives of the Interim Press Council said on Monday.
Zaw Thet Htwe, a member of the Interim Press Council, said the jailing of DVB video journalist Zaw Pe, the recent sentencing of the Unity Weekly news journal staff to ten years in prison with hard labour, the recent interrogation of Bi-Mon Te Nay Weekly news journal editors, and the probe into private news organisations’ finances by the police’s Special Branch are all a gradual silencing of the free press in the run-up to 2015 national elections.
“We feel an indirect threat to press freedom ahead of the 2015 elections and urge media workers to stay alert for the sake of the country,” Zaw Thet Htwe said.
Pho Thaukkyar, a veteran journalist and committee member of the Myanmar Journalists Association, echoed Zaw Thet Htwe’s assessment, adding that independent news coverage in the 2015 elections and this year’s by-elections are likely to be muzzled by these recent examples.
“I see that it is unlikely there will be media freedom in the upcoming by-elections, tipped in December this year — let along the 2015 elections,” said Pho Thaukkyar, adding that the Burmese press do not fully enjoy the rights provided by the 2008 Constitution.
Since the nominally civilian government of Thein Sein came into power in March 2011, the media has seen a series of reforms that purport to allow greater press freedom. Yet the recent sentencing of ten years with hard labour for five Unity Weekly media workers – for reporting on an alleged chemical weapons facility in Magwe Division – and the Special Branch’s efforts to interrogate independent private media organisations on their finances have shown an apparent backslide in these reforms, say local and international press advocacy groups.