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The organiser of a rally in support of media freedom in central Burma was charged on Saturday under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Act.
Yae Khe, a local correspondent for Mizzima in the town of Prome, officially known as Pyay, organised the protest in partnership with DVB journalist Min Nyo, calling for greater press freedom and the release of six journalists currently imprisoned in Burma, including DVB video journalist Zaw Pe.
On 19 April, Yae Khe and Min Nyo applied for permission to township authorities in accordance with the controversial law. Their application was rejected on 23 April.
Min Nyo, speaking to DVB on Monday, said that he and Yae Khe received a rejection letter from Prome Township police chief Myint Oo, who raised security concerns regarding the proposed route.
The rally went ahead regardless and included 20 local Prome journalists accompanied by more than 80 media activists.
According to Min Nyo, Yae Khe was charged on Saturday after marchers ignored the demands of local police officers to desist as they marched the streets of Prome on Friday. Police officers did not block the hour-long protest.
“As we were marching, the police told us to stop the protest. We ignored them, but we were told to go to the Prome police office at 10am on Saturday,” Min Nyo said.
“They only wanted to arrest Yae Khe,” the DVB journalist said. “When I questioned Myo Myint, a Prome Township police officer, he said that no more arrests would be made. He said the police were only interested in Yae Khe because they believed him to be the chief organiser of the protest.”
According to Min Nyo, Yae Khe was released without bail. No court date has yet been set, he added.
Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Act carries a maximum punishment of one year in prison, a fine of 30,000 kyat (US$30), or both.
Min Nyo, who was previously charged three times with breaches of the protest law, said that Yae Khe expects to go to court within the next seven to ten days.
“Each time I was arrested and charged, I was fined 10,000 kyat,” Min Nyo said. “Each time I had to wait seven to ten days before trial. Yae Khe expects the same thing. He is the 17th person to be arrested for breaches of the Peaceful Assembly Act in Prome in April alone.”
Imprisoned DVB Magwe correspondent Zaw Pe has become the focus of recent international outcry against media suppression in Burma. Zaw Pe was arrested in August 2012 and charged with “trespassing” and “disturbing a civil servant on duty” after he visited Magwe Division education office to investigate allegations of corruption in its allocation of scholarships within a Japanese-funded programme. Earlier this month, the video journalist was sentenced to serve one year in Thayet Prison.
Min Nyo believes that the treatment of Zaw Pe is indicative of a culture of corruption among government officials.
“The government has a strong mindset and officials believe that they should control all information, especially when it has to do with the allocation of funds. This sort of transparency is crucial to the public, but the government is preventing journalists such as Zaw Pe from informing them.”
On Friday, a similar protest proceeded unhindered in Mon State, after organisers Southern-Burma Journalists Network and the Myanmar Journalists Association received the necessary permission.