Burmese journalist handed 20-year prison sentence

New York, January 7, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the harsh sentencing of Hla Hla Win, a broadcast journalist with the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB). She was sentenced to 20 years in prison on December 30 for violating the vague and draconian Electronic Act. 

Hla Hla Win was first arrested on September 11, 2009, on her way back from a DVB reporting assignment in Pakokku Township, Magwe Division, where she had conducted interviews with Buddhist monks in a local monastery. According to her editors at DVB, at the time of her arrest she was working on a story pegged to the second anniversary of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, in which Buddhist monks rose up against the Burma’s military-run government in countrywide protests that were finally violently suppressed.

On October 6, a Pakokku Township court sentenced Hla Hla Win and her assistant, Myint Naing, to seven years in prison for using an illegally imported motorcycle. After interrogations in prison, they were both subsequently charged with violating Section 33 of the Electronic Act, which forbids unauthorized use of electronic media and is increasingly used by the regime to punish journalists and activists for sending information out of the country, including over the Internet.

Hla Hla Win now faces a combined 27 years in prison for her reporting activities.  She joined DVB as an undercover reporter in December 2008. According to her editors she played an active role in covering various issues considered sensitive to the government, including local reaction to last year’s controversial trail of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Burma’s military government says that it is moving toward democracy, but at the same time continues to punish journalists with harsh sentences,” said CPJ’s Southeast Asia senior representative Shawn Crispin. “Before the international community rewards the regime for holding ostensibly democratic elections this year, it should demand demonstrable progress on press freedom, including the unconditional release of Hla Hla Win.” 

The military government has promised general elections this year, but has not set a specific date.

At least nine journalists were imprisoned in Burma when CPJ conducted its worldwide survey of jailed journalists on December 1. The figure for Burma may have been higher if several undercover reporters who were arrested and detained in the wake of the Saffron Revolution were taken into account.

Exile-run media groups told CPJ that a number of their jailed reporters preferred to remain anonymous because of fears that the authorities would extend their prison sentences if it was discovered that they had sent news, pictures, and videos to news outlets outside the country. The DVB estimated that 14 of its undercover reporters were being held in detention as of December 2009. International rights groups estimate that there are more than 2,000 political prisoners being held across the country.