DVB reporters and staff in Rangoon gathered for Burmese New Year’s Day to pray for the release of their colleague, Magwe correspondent Zaw Pe [Zaw Phay] who was recently sentenced to a one- year jail term for charges related to his journalistic work.
Zaw Pe and his friend Win Myint Hlaing were each sentenced to one year in prison by Magwe Township Court on 7 April after being found guilty of charges of “trespassing” and “disturbing a civil servant on duty”, pressed by a government official. The Magwe Divisional Education Department official pressed charges in August 2012 after Zaw Pe had inquired about a scholarship programme.
On 17 April, fellow DVB staff in Rangoon, wearing matching black t-shirts carrying placards calling for the release of Zaw Pe and for greater press freedom, gathered at the east gate of Shwedagon Pagoda in a prayer session. They also released fish and birds as acts of merit-making, a traditional Burmese custom at this time of year.
Hla Hla Win, a DVB reporter who also had been arrested and jailed by authorities while covering news in 2009, said: “Zaw Pe went to the government office to cover news which was in the public interest and his jailing indicates that no reporter in the country is safe to cover news at government offices without risking arrest.
“We are journalists collecting information for the public and not some thieves or criminals – we don’t deserve to spend even one day in the prison,” she said.
DVB staff members in Mandalay also released fish and birds on Thursday as symbolic calls for justice for Zaw Pe.
Meanwhile, Mandalay-based journalists from several media outlets gathered at the historic Maha Myat Muni Pagoda and prayed for the release of all reporters arrested and jailed in the line of work.
Zaw Thet Htwe, a former political prisoner and leading member of the Interim Myanmar Press Council who took part in the activity, said the jailing of reporters for chasing news is completely unacceptable.
“Basically this indicates that every reporter can be sued for charges such as trespassing for visiting a venue to cover news. This basically makes it impossible for them to work anywhere in the country and therefore we cannot accept this,” he said.
“We would like the government in Burma, the parliament and the public, as well as the international community, to know that the jailing of Zaw Pe was completely unfair and this is why we have joined this event today.”
DVB has vowed to work with other media organisations and rights groups to continue campaigning for Zaw Pe’s release.