Journalist imprisoned for covering cyclone victims

New York, November 17, 2008–Amid a growing crackdown on political dissent and freedom of expression, a Burmese court on Friday handed down a two-year prison sentence to Eine Khine Oo, a journalist with the local weekly Ecovision Journal

In a closed-door trial, the court ruled that Eine Khine Oo‘s news coverage of a small demonstration–held in front of the United Nations Development Program’s offices in Tamwe Township in Rangoon by around 20 Cyclone Nargis victims who were protesting a lack of government assistance–had “disturbed tranquility,” according to international news reports.

The 24-year-old reporter was first arrested on June 10 and initially charged under section 505/B of Burma’s Criminal Code for charges related to publicly denouncing the government. Police officials had accused her of taking photographs of cyclone victims with the intent of distributing them to foreign and exile media groups. She was detained at Insein prison on the outskirts of Rangoon while awaiting trial.

“The prison sentence given to Eine Khine Oo represents the latest outrageous violation of press freedom in Burma and shows just how farcical the junta’s promise to move toward democratic reform really is,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “We call on the relevant Burmese authorities to stop harassing and start protecting journalists who are only doing their jobs as reporters.”

On November 10, a Burmese court established inside Insein prison sentenced blogger Nay Phone Latt to 20 and a half years in prison for blog entries, including a caricature of junta leader Senior General Than Shwe. A former member of the opposition National League for Democracy, Nay Phone Latt was first arrested in January.

At least two others, freelance journalist Zaw Thet Htwe and popular blogger and comedian Zarganar, are currently in detention and awaiting trial over their respective roles in documenting and speaking to the press about the Cyclone Nargis disaster and the military government’s inadequate response.

Cyclone Nargis devastated the Irawaddy Delta and left tens of thousands dead after it hit Burma in early May. 

According to The Associated Press, about 70 opposition activists, writers, Buddhist monks and others have been sentenced to jail in Burma in the last week.