Freelance reporter faces 20 years' jail

A Burmese court has handed down a 20-year jail term to a freelance reporter for using an illegally imported motorbike and for working with foreign media.

Freelance video reporter Hla Hla Win was sentenced last month by a court in Pakokku, where she was first charged with offences under the Export Import Act .

For offences relating to the use of a motorcycle, she received a seven-year sentence – favourable compared to the 26-year term handed to a woman who accompanied her.

But the court’s judgement, seen by press freedom groups, reveals the 25-year-old reporter had her sentence lengthened for another alleged violation of Burmese law.

According to the details, Win supplied the Democrat Voice of Burma, a broadcaster based in Oslo which authorities in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, have exiled.

Media freedom lobbyist Reporters Without Borders condemned Win’s sentence, saying her client had only requested simple information-gathering.

But it is not the first time that the ruling junta has cited the Electronic Act, which prohibits using the internet to send information abroad, to silence journalists.

At least 13 journalists and bloggers are currently detained in Burma, most of them in “very harsh conditions,” having fallen foul of Article 33, the lobbyist said.

The group added that Myanmar security forces have cracked down on people in the country who send photos and video abroad to exiled news media and opposition groups since September 2007.

“People had been expecting signs of an opening and goodwill gestures from the military junta in this election year,” said Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association.

“But this extremely severe sentence on a 25-year-old video maker and the junta chief's recent threatening comments leave little hope that the elections will be free."

The joint statement refers to junta leader Than Shwe’s comments on Monday, who said plans for elections later this year were underway, but warned citizens to make the "correct choices" at the polls.

Media freedom groups remind that, so far, the country’s authorities have given no guarantee that journalists and citizen journalists employed by foreign news media will be able to work during the elections.


7th January 2010

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