New York, November
21, 2008--A Burmese court sentenced entertainer, blogger, and activist Maung Thura--known
by his stage name, "Zarganar"--to 45 years in prison today for violations of the
Electronics Act, according to Burmese rights groups and international news
reports. Sports journalist Zaw Thet Htwe, and two other defendants were also
sentenced to at least 15 years each in the same trial.
All four still face charges, and more years are expected to
be added to the sentences next week, according to Aung Din of the
Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma. They had collaborated to
help survivors and videotape damage after Cyclone Nargis, which devastated Rangoon and much of the
Irrawaddy Delta in May.
Courts have sentenced at least 100 people in Burma since
early November, according to The Associated Press, including Ecovision Journal journalist Eine
Khine Oo and blogger Nay
"The sentences we have witnessed in Burma this
month are nothing less than an assault on free expression," said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia Program Coordinator. "That it
should stem from reporting in the public interest is a shocking indictment of
the ruling military junta."
Maung Thura, a well-known comedian, blogger and
pro-democracy activist, coordinated relief efforts after the cyclone. Police
arrested him at his home in Rangoon
on June 4 shortly after he gave interviews to overseas-based news outlets,
including the BBC, criticizing the military junta's response to the disaster,
according to international news reports. Police confiscated electronic equipment
such as DVD footage of the cyclone damage, according to the Assistance
Association for Political Prisoners and the United States Campaign for Burma. The day
after his arrest, state-controlled media published warnings against sending
video footage of relief work to foreign news agencies.
On August 7, during closed proceedings at Insein Prison in Rangoon, Maung Thura was
indicted on multiple charges. Today's sentence was the sum of three separate penalties--15
years each, the maximum allowed--imposed for crimes under the Electronics Act. He
still faces four charges under different laws, including the Television and
Video Act, the Unlawful Association Act, and the penal code, according to Aung
Police arrested Rangoon-based freelance journalist Zaw Thet
Htwe, former editor of sports newspaper First
Eleven, on June 13 in the town of
Minbu during a
visit to his mother, according to Agence France-Presse. The 15-year sentence he
received today was also under the Electronics Act. Both he and Maung Thura had
been detained in the past. One of Maung Thura's previous arrests took place in
September 2007 for helping Buddhist monks during anti-government protests.
The Associated Press named the other two defendants as Thant
Zin Aung, sentenced to 15 years, and Tin Maung Aye, who was given 29 years.
Aung Din said Thant Zin Aung was arrested at the airport for trying to smuggle
footage he had filmed of the disaster to Thailand, where he lives.