Journalist’s death sentence commuted

New York, May 18, 2004—The death sentence of Burmese editor Zaw Thet Htway, who was convicted of high treason along with eight others in November 2003, was reduced to a three-year prison term on May 12 by Burma’s Supreme Court.

Htway, editor of the sports magazine First Eleven, has been detained since July 17, 2003, 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 Htway during the arrest.

The eight other defendants, who are not journalists, were also arrested in mid-July. According to The Associated Press, 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.

Authorities claimed that Htway was being punished for crimes unrelated to his journalism. But in June 2003, 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.

At the time of Htway’s conviction, the harsh ruling was seen as a warning to other journalists, although death sentences are rarely carried out in Burma. Of the nine people sentenced to death last year, five had their sentences commuted to life terms, and four others, including Htway, will now serve three-year sentences, according to Radio Free Asia.

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.

“While we are relieved that Zaw Thet Htway no longer faces the death penalty, we protest his ongoing imprisonment on false charges,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on Burmese authorities to release Htway and the nine other journalists behind bars in Burma.”