New York, February 19, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemns Friday’s arrest of journalists Thet Zin and Sein Win Maung, respectively the editor and office manager for the Myanmar Nation weekly news journal.
Both journalists were taken after police raided the publication’s office in Rangoon. As of this afternoon, Thet Zin and Sein Win Maung, alias Ko Soe, were being held at Thingangyun Township police station, according to a Burmese exile source in Thailand and the Mizzima News service, based in New Delhi.
It was unclear under what specific charges the two journalists were being held. Thet Zin’s wife Khin Swe Myint told Mizzima that the journal is “published officially after clearance from the Censorship Board.”
According to Aung Din, director of the Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma, Khin Swe Myint met with him on Monday morning. He told his wife that he will be transferred to Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison soon. Thet Zin did not tell his wife the nature of the charges he is facing, but he told her the prison term could amount to 10 years.
“We call upon the government to immediately and unconditionally release Thet Zin and Sein Win Maung,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Their arrests make a mockery of the ruling junta’s recent announcement that it intends to implement a series of democratic reforms.”
According to The Associated Press, the country’s ruling junta today said a new draft constitution to replace the one scrapped in 1988 is ready for submission to a national referendum. The new charter is supposed to lead to a general election in 2010. It was “the first time the military government had set dates to carry out what it calls its road map to democracy,” the AP said.
At the time of the arrests, police officials told the Myanmar Nation that it could continue publishing as usual. However, after interrogating the two reporters, police officials returned to the journal’s office on Monday and ordered staff to temporarily stop publishing, according to the Burma Media Association, a press freedom advocacy group with representatives in Bangkok.
Government harassment is not new to Thet Zin. He was also arrested in 1988 for his participation in pro-democracy student demonstrations during which the government killed as many as 3,000 protestors. He suffers from heart and lung ailments, and family members were allowed to deliver medicines to him on Saturday.
During the raid on Myanmar Nation, police officials confiscated a copy of United Nations Special Rapporteur to Burma Paulo Sergio Pinheiro’s recent report on the country’s human rights situation, which provided details of several of the killings associated with the military government’s armed crackdown last September on the anti-government protests, according to Aung Din.
He also said they confiscated copies of video CDs containing footage of last year’s street demonstrations, the reporters’ mobile telephones, as well as a number of undisclosed documents.
At least six journalists were detained in the wake of the military government’s brutal crackdown on street demonstrators last year, including freelance photojournalist Win Saing, who is still being held in detention. Not including the recent arrests of Thet Zin and Sein Win Maung, the Burmese government currently has seven journalists in prison, according to CPJ research.