Two imprisoned journalists released; five remain behind bars

New York, July 6, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release today of two imprisoned Burmese journalists, documentary filmmaker Aung Pwint and freelance journalist Sein Hla Oo. Burma’s military government released more than 240 prisoners today, including several prominent political prisoners, according to a spokesman from the opposition National League for Democracy party (NLD). U Win Tin, one of Burma’s best known and most respected journalists, was also reported released, but that could not be independently confirmed today. Five other journalists remain in prison serving lengthy sentences because of their work according to CPJ research.

Pwint called his wife after he was released this morning from Tharawaddy Prison north of the capital, Rangoon, and said he was on his way home, his son told CPJ. Pwint was arrested in October 1999 with Thaung Tun, better known by his pen name, Nyein Thit, for making independent documentaries that portrayed the harsh realities of everyday life in Burma, including poverty and forced labor. They were both sentenced to eight years in prison. CPJ honored Aung Pwint and Nyein Thit with 2004 International Press Freedom Awards last November. Nyein Thit was not among those released today. (More details on their cases. )

Sein Hla Oo, a freelance journalist, former editor, and NLD member of Parliament, was freed from Myitkyina Prison in northern Kachin state today. He was arrested in 1994 and charged with “fabricating and sending antigovernment reports” to foreign embassies, radio stations and journalists.

The Irrawaddy, the Burmese exile newspaper, quoted one of the freed prisoners as saying that today’s releases were unconditional and part of a special amnesty. U Win Tin, who is 75 and has served 16 years of a 20-year sentence, was reported to be among the prisoners summoned to meet with the minister of home affairs, a precursor to being released, according to the NLD and exiled Burmese sources. But U Win Tin’s family said that he has not returned home yet, Reuters reported.

Nyein Thit is among five journalists still imprisoned for their work in Burma. The others are: Maung Maung Lay Ngwe, Aung Htun, Ne Min, and Lazing La Htoi. (Details on their cases )

“We are relieved that our colleagues Aung Pwint and Sein Hla Oo are free, but Burma’s leaders must release all of the imprisoned journalists who remain behind bars,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Burma should continue taking steps to address the concerns of its regional neighbors, who have called for greater respect for the rights of journalists.”

Burma is one of the most restrictive countries in Asia for journalists. The ruling military junta is under pressure to reform its abysmal human rights record from the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional trade organization, as the country is up for the chairmanship next year.

The government freed three other journalists in January: First Eleven editor Zaw Thet Htway, and freelance journalists Ohn Kyaing and Thein Tan. Hundreds of other prisoners were freed in late 2004, including political prisoners, as part of a general amnesty declared by the ruling junta in November 2004.