Burmese government jails another DVB journalist

New York, February 1, 2010The Burmese government should cease its campaign of intimidation and harassment against the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), an exile-run television news provider, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Over the past month, military-controlled courts in Burma have sentenced two undercover DVB reporters to punitive prison terms over their reporting. On January 27, a special court attached to Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison sentenced DVB reporter Ngwe Soe Lin, also known as Tun Kyaw, to 13 years in prison on charges related to the vague and draconian Electronics and Immigration Acts, according to a DVB statement posted on their Web site. His conviction follows the 27-year jail term handed down on December 30 to DVB reporter Hla Hla Win, who was similarly charged under the Electronics Act.

Ngwe Soe Lin was first arrested on June 26, 2009, and was held in detention until his conviction last week, DVB reported. Ngwe Soe Lin took video footage of children orphaned by the 2008 Cyclone Nargis disaster for a documentary titled “Orphans of Burma’s Cyclone,” which was recognized last year with a Rory Peck Award for best documentary. When the award was announced in November 2009, DVB said a video journalist who had worked on the film who they identified as “T” had been imprisoned; his colleague, “Z” was in hiding, the group said.

Many of DVB’s journalists have remained anonymous due to 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.

“While the world commends DVB reporter Ngwe Soe Lin for his courageous and heartfelt reporting, Burma’s military regime has sentenced him to prison on trumped-up charges,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Southeast Asia representative. “DVB’s undercover reporters have consistently and courageously filled the news gaps created by government censors. They should be allowed to do their work without fear of threat or reprisal.”  

The ruling military junta has in recent years increasingly used the Electronics Act, which broadly forbids the unauthorized use of electronic media (including the Internet) to send information outside the country, to intimidate and punish reporters who work for foreign and exile-run news organizations. Hla Hla Win had covered various news stories considered sensitive to the regime, including last year’s controversial trial of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

As of December last year, DVB editors estimated that 14 of its undercover reporters were being held in detention. With Ngwe Soe Lin’s conviction, DVB announced it would initiate a campaign, in cooperation with press freedom groups including CPJ, for the release of all its journalists now in detention.