A series of public campaigns for press freedom and the release of jailed reporters are being prepared by media organisations and correspondents across Burma.
Nyan Soe Win, a reporter based in Moulmein, Mon State, confirmed that media workers have alerted local police of their intention to organise a peaceful protest calling for the release of DVB’s Zaw Pe, who on 7 April was sentenced to serve one year in prison. Zaw Pe was charged under Penal Code articles 353 – “disturbing a civil servant”, and 448 – “trespassing”, after attempting to conduct an interview with a Magwe education department official.
The DVB video-journalist (VJ) was investigating a case of potential corruption regarding the awarding of Japanese-funded scholarships. The father of a student-applicant, Win Myint Hlaing, accompanied Zaw Pe to the Magwe education office; he too was arrested and will serve the same sentence.
When asked after his conviction about the impact of his charges on press freedom in Burma, Zaw Pe replied:
“Prosecuting journalists for trespassing and disturbing civil servants will prevent them from approaching government offices in the future. It will compromise the balance of news.”
Meanwhile, media workers in Prome, Pegu division are also planning a protest.
On 21 April, local news correspondents in Magwe gathered for a Buddhist prayer ceremony dedicated to Zaw Pe at the Myathlon Pagoda. Zaw Pe is a Magwe native, and is now being held in Thayet prison within the state. It is his second imprisonment in Thayet, having served nearly two and a half years on a 2010 charge of filming without a license. Zaw Pe was a DVB VJ at that time.
Zaw Pe’s recent conviction came as the trial of five media workers from the Burmese language journal Unity Weekly continues. The Unity staffers were arrested in connection with a 25 January report alleging the existence of a chemical weapons facility in Magwe division. Four Unity journalists and their CEO face the charge of “exposing state secrets” and could be charged with up to 14 years in prison.
Than Htay, joint-secretary of the Myanmar Journalists Network, said a meeting with representatives from various media organisations has been scheduled for 26 April when future campaigns will be coordinated. According to Than Htay, campaigns will focus on the release of all journalists behind bars in Burma, as well as the promotion of media freedom in general.
The group also plans to appeal to parliament in order to take the issue straight to President Thein Sein, who since taking office in 2011 has stressed the importance of press freedom and lauded his government’s media reforms.