Two journalists released, 12 still languish in Burma’s jails

New York, September 22, 2009—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of two journalists as part of a mass amnesty in Burma, but calls upon the military-run government to release the other 12 reporters it still holds in detention. 

International human rights groups estimated that only about 25 of the 7,114 prisoners released on September 17 were among the estimated 2,100 political prisoners held in detention or labor camps across the country. Burma’s military government denies that it holds any political prisoners, a claim that was reiterated by officials at last week’s release. The Associated Press reported the prisoners were released for good behavior and on humanitarian grounds.

Eine Khine Oo, a reporter with the weekly Ecovision Journal, and freelance reporter Kyaw Kyaw Thant were among the 7,114 prisoners released on September 17. Both were detained on June 10, 2008, for photographing a demonstration of Cyclone Nargis survivors seeking aid in front of a United Nations agency office in Tamwe township on the outskirts of the old capital city of Rangoon.

In November 2008, Eine Khine Oo was convicted under the penal code of “disturbing tranquility” and sentenced to two years in prison during a closed door trial. Kyaw Kyaw Thant was charged under anti-state laws the same month for leading the demonstration and was given a seven-year jail term.

“We are pleased that Eine Khine Oo and Kyaw Kyaw Thant have finally been released from prison, but reiterate that they never should have been jailed in the first place,” said Shawn W. Crispin, CPJ’s Southeast Asia representative. “With elections coming next year, we call on Burma’s junta to honor its pledge to move toward democracy by releasing the other 12 journalists it still holds in detention.”

Both reporters said upon their release that they intended to continue their work as journalists. Eine Khine Oo received in February this year the first annual Kenji Nagai Award, presented jointly by the Burma Media Association and Japan’s APF News to recognize Burmese journalists who has been harassed, arrested or killed for their reporting.

The award was named after a Japanese video journalist who was shot and killed by a Burmese soldier while filming a government crackdown on street demonstrators in August 2007.