Journalists jailed in Cyclone Nargis aftermath

New York, July 1, 2008–Burma’s military government should immediately release all journalists arrested in connection with the Cyclone Nargis disaster, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At least four journalists are being detained by Burmese authorities, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners Burma (AAPP), a Thailand-based assistance and rights monitoring group, and the Burma Media Association (BMA), a exile-run press freedom advocacy group.

They include Aung Kyaw San, editor-in-chief of the Myanmar Tribune; Ma Eine Khine Oo, a journalist with Ecovision Journal; popular commentator, comedian, and blogger Maung Thura, better known as Zarganar; and Zaw Thet Htwe, a freelance journalist based in Rangoon.

“The government’s continued crackdown on Burmese citizens trying to report on the aftermath of this disaster only serves to keep the military regime in power–it is of no service to Burma or the people who have lost their homes and loved ones,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.

Aung Kyaw San was arrested on June 15 in Rangoon along with 15 others as they returned from relief activities in the worst-hit Irrawaddy Delta region. Authorities have closed down his Burmese-language weekly and have not allowed his family members visitation rights, according to AAPP. 

No formal charges have been filed against Aung Kyaw San, who was jailed in 1990 and held for more than three years for his activities with the country’s pro-democracy movement, the AAPP said.

Journalist Ma Eine Khine Oo was detained on June 10 while covering a demonstration staged by cyclone victims in front of the U.N. Development Program’s offices in Tamwe Township in eastern Rangoon, according to both AAPP and BMA. According to the exile-run Mizzima news agency, police officials accused her of taking photographs of cyclone victims with the intent of distributing them to foreign and exile media groups.

The 23-year-old reporter has been charged under section 505/B of the country’s penal code, which allows for a maximum of four years in prison for charges related to publicly denouncing the government. She is being held at Insein prison on the outskirts of Rangoon and faces trial at a Tamwe court on Thursday, according to AAPP.

Maung Thura was arrested on June 4 at his home in Rangoon, according to news reports. His arrest came soon after the airing of a television interview he gave to the BBC, in which he said the Burmese people were angry with the junta’s poor response to the disaster.

Freelance journalist Zaw Thet Htwe was also arrested in early June after apparently helping videotape Maung Thura’s private relief efforts for cyclone victims. The material was taken by police from Maung Thura’s home on June 4. According to AAPP, their families have not been told where they are being held, or what charges they face.