Journalist sentenced to death

New York, December 4, 2003—Zaw Thet Htway, editor of the Burmese sports magazine First Eleven, has been sentenced to death for high treason. Although death sentences are rarely carried out in Burma, exiled Burmese journalists call the sentence “disturbing.”

According to international press reports, Zaw Thet Htway and eight other individuals, including a lawyer and a member of an opposition party, received death sentences on November 28 at a special court in Insein Jail near the capital, Rangoon.

Zaw Thet Htway has been detained since July 17, when military intelligence officers raided the magazine’s offices and arrested him and four other First Eleven journalists, who were soon released. According to exile groups, the officers beat Zaw Thet Htway during the arrest.

The eight other defendants who received the death penalty were also arrested in mid-July. According to The Associated Press (AP), the government accused all nine of plotting to overthrow Burma’s ruling junta, and of being involved with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party.

In June, First Eleven had received a government warning after it published an article that month questioning how grant money from the international community for the development of soccer in the country had been spent, according to The Irrawaddy, a Bangkok-based news magazine run by exiled Burmese journalists.

In a statement released soon after the arrests, the government denied that Htway was arrested because of his work as a journalist and said he was detained “on a totally different subject” but did not provide further details, according to the AP.

Htway spent several years in jail in the 1990s because of his work with the Democratic Party for a New Society, a banned political party now operating in exile. Family members told Agence France-Presse that he has also been accused of remaining in contact with “unlawful elements” in the party. The AP reported that his wife, Khine Cho, was not allowed in the court for the sentencing, but that she plans to appeal.

Burma has one of the most restrictive media climates in Asia.

For more information about the Burmese press, click here.