An appeal by DVB reporter Zaw Pe, sentenced to one year’s imprisonment in April on charges of trespassing and disturbing a civil servant on duty, took place on Tuesday at Magwe Divisional Court.
Following the first day’s hearing, Thein Tun, the lawyer for the video-journalist, said the defence team were able to present a solid argument and proof that the reporter and co-defender Win Myint Hlaing went to Magwe Divisional Education Department as journalists to simply enquire about a scholarship programme, but did not commit the offences the township court found them guilty of.
“The Union Supreme Court in Naypyidaw demanded we present evidence that Ko Zaw Pe was at the education department within his capacity as a journalist to inform to the public about a Japanese-sponsored education scholarship programme,” said Thein Tun. “Co-defendant Win Myint Hlaing attended as a parent interested in the details of the scholarship for his daughter.
“We were able to present this evidence to the Magwe court as per the Supreme Court’s orders,” he continued. “It is clear that they went to the divisional education chief’s office with pure intentions.
“We were able to make a strong argument for their innocence.”
The lawyer added that he is optimistic about the case, and said he believes the sentences will either be reduced or dropped completely.
“We believe that their one-year sentences will be reduced as they did not threaten or act in a manner to disturb government officials,” Thein Tun said.
Moe Moe, the wife of Zaw Pe, said her husband is in good health in prison, although she feels insecure at home and is alone with their young child.
“My husband is in good health, but now as I must manage with our child by myself, I feel lonely and insecure,” she said.
Since his incarceration, several campaigns have been held calling for Zaw Pe’s release, as well as other journalists held in detention.
Shawn Crispin, the senior Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said these recent convictions and detentions are a sign of reforms moving backwards, and called for “the immediate release of all reporters being held in Burma.”
“[The] conviction of journalist Zaw Pe is the latest indication that Burma’s once-promising democratic reform program is rapidly being reversed,” Crispin said in an email to DVB. “With at least five journalists now in jail, President Thein Sein’s vows to uphold press freedom ring increasingly hollow.”