Burmese video journalist given 13 years in jail

New York, February 11, 2011–Burma’s new government under Prime Minister Thein Sein must put an end to the former military junta’s despicable policy of imprisoning independent journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The most recent case to come to light is the 13-year sentencing of Maung Maung Zeya in a trial held within Insein Prison on February 4. Staff at the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), for which the journalist worked, confirmed the decision to CPJ. Maung Maung Zeya was convicted for contacting Burmese exiled media and violating the Electronics Act. The court’s sentence came on the same day Thein Sein was sworn into office. 

CPJ counted 13 journalists in jail in Burma as of December 1, 2010, making it one of the five worst jailers of journalists in the world.

“Maung Maung Zeya’s sentencing to 13 years in prison should dispel any illusions that Burma is on a new path,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The old junta’s pretense that its elections would install a democratic government has been revealed for the sham that it really is.”

Maung Maung Zeya, 58, was sentenced to five years’ in jail for two violations of the Unlawful Association Act, one year under the Immigration Act for crossing the Burma-Thai border illegally, and seven years under the Electronics Act. He and his son, Sithu Zeya, also a DVB journalist, were arrested for filming the aftermath of a fatal bomb attack during April’s Buddhist New Year celebration, according to DVB. Sithu Zeya was given an eight-year sentence in December last year on similar charges.

CPJ research shows that Burmese authorities have increasingly used the vague and harsh Electronics Act, which broadly bans the unauthorized use of electronic media–including the Internet–against journalists who send information outside the country, or work undercover for foreign or exile run news organizations.

Hearings in Maung Maung Zeya’s trial started on June 22 at Western Rangoon’s Provincial Court. DVB Deputy Editor Khin Maung Win told CPJ that authorities had offered to free Maung Maung Zeya if he divulged the names of other undercover DVB reporters. DVB editors said he was a “senior member” of their undercover team inside Burma and was responsible for operation management, including assigning reporting to other DVB journalists.

Irrawaddy, a Thailand-based news site run largely by exiled Burmese journalists, quoted Maung Maung Zeya’s lawyer, Thein Nyunt, as saying his client’s health “has deteriorated a lot since his arrest, and  I believe that drugs used in the course of interrogating my client are the cause.”

In a separate case, on January 26, Aung Kyaw San, writer and publisher of the Myanmar Tribune, was released after serving out his two-year sentence from Taunggyi Prison in Shan State. In all, he had served two years and seven months in jail, including the time he was held under investigation before he was released.