Burma: Two journalists arrested and summarily tried for filming

New York, April 4, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the arrest and summary trial of two journalists accused of filming the countryside from a public bus outside Burma’s controversial new capital. Ko Thar Cho, a photojournalist, and Ko Kyaw Thwin, a columnist at the Burmese-language magazine Dhamah Yate, were arrested on March 27 while videotaping near the city of Pyinmana, according to the Burma Media Association (BMA).

The journalists were sentenced to three years in prison one day after their arrest under the draconian 1996 Television and Video Act, which bars the distribution of film material without official approval. Both journalists have appealed, arguing through a lawyer that they did not shoot footage of restricted areas. They are being held in a prison north of Pyinmana.

Local residents told the BMA that soldiers and police were under orders to stop anyone taking photographs near the capital. The government moved to Pyinmana, 250 miles (400 kilometers) north of Rangoon, in November. The move was not announced and press reports at the time said government workers were given one day’s notice to relocate. The diplomatic corps in Rangoon was not informed of the move ahead of time.

“This is a travesty of justice in a country where a military government uses the law to crush any attempt at journalism,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director. “We demand the immediate and unconditional release of journalists Ko Thar Cho and Ko Kyaw Thwin.”

Burma’s ruling military junta is one of Asia’s most repressive towards the media. The detention of Ko Thar Cho and Ko Kyaw Thwin brings the number of journalists imprisoned for their work to at least seven, according to CPJ research.