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More than 200 journalists and activists took to the streets in Rangoon on Tuesday morning to denounce the imprisonment of Eleven Daily reporter Naw Khine Khine Aye Cho, popularly known as Ma Khine.
The demonstration was organised by the Myanmar Journalists Network (MJN) and drew some 200 participants, including many of Rangoon’s reporters. Demonstrators marched from City Hall to the Eleven Media Group offices in Tamwe Township, bearing t-shirts and placards with messages demanding press freedom in the country, which only abolished pre-publication censorship in August 2012.
“The reporter was sentenced to three months in a Loikaw jail for pursuing news, and we see this as a threat to media freedom,” said Myint Kyaw, general secretary of the MJN.
“We are protesting not just for an individual news organisation, but against a possible threat to all reporters,” he said. “Furthermore, all citizens have the right to appeal against an unfair trial.”
The protest was joined by members of the Myanmar Lawyers Network and 88 Generation Peace and Open Society (88GPOS) whose leader, Min Ko Naing, said that the group wanted to show its solidarity with the journalists.
“We support freedom regardless of profession,” said Min Ko Naing. “When there is oppression, we have to stand together on mutual ground and show our unity.”
Ma Khine was sentenced to three months in prison in December by Karenni State’s Loikaw Township court on charges of trespassing, criminal defamation and using obscene language. The charges were filed by a lawyer who claimed that the journalist entered her property without permission and became verbally abusive. Ma Khine testified that she was conducting an interview and had been invited inside by the lawyer, denying allegations of abuse and obscenity.
Myint Kyaw said that just after Ma Khine was sentenced, the MJN released a public statement “strongly condemning” the prosecution as a threat to Burma’s media freedom. After receiving no reply from authorities, the group applied for permission on 29 December to stage a protest in Rangoon, which was granted.
Permission was denied, however, for a similar protest in Mandalay, also scheduled for Tuesday. Authorities in Aungmyay Tharzan Township on Sunday rejected a bid by local journalists on the grounds that the demonstration “was planned on a busy and crowded road,” according to a police official.
Despite being denied permission for a public gathering, about 20 journalists gathered at a Mandalay prison donning protest garb and carrying photographic equipment bound with bandages, in an act of solidarity with the Rangoon demonstrators.