Burmese Lawyer Jailed for Distributing Foreign News Latest Sign of Burma’s Disregard for Press Freedom

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New York, September 14, 2000 — The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called yesterday’s sentencing of lawyer Cheng Poh “an outrageous violation of press freedom” and expressed concerns for his safety.

Cheng Poh, 77, was sentenced to 14 years in prison yesterday for allegedly distributing foreign news articles, according to CPJ sources. Arrested in July, Cheng Poh has been detained in Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison, prompting concerns for his health. His sentence was delivered by a special court housed inside the prison compound, The Associated Press reported.

“The sentencing of Cheng Poh is sadly typical of Burma’s miserable record on press freedom,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “CPJ is outraged that Burmese citizens are deprived of their liberty for exercising their internationally-guaranteed right to free expression.”

The ruling junta in Burma (officially known as Myanmar) presides over one of the world’s most repressive censorship regimes. Both print and broadcast media are tightly controlled by state censors, so many Burmese rely on what little foreign news they can get, mostly in the form of shortwave radio broadcasts produced overseas.

Cheng Poh was sentenced to two consecutive seven-year prison terms for allegedly violating the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act and the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law, both of which are regularly used against journalists and political dissidents.

Burma recently stepped up its criticism of international media after widespread international condemnation of the government’s treatment of opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. In an official statement issued last week, the Burmese government accused the foreign press of conducting a “synchronized negative media campaign” at the behest of some Western nations.