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Burma 18 May 2004

Sports journalist Zaw Thet Htwe has death sentence commuted

The Supreme Court has commuted death sentences against four people, including sports journalist Zaw Thet Htwe, to three years in prison.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) and the Burma Media Association (BMA) welcomed the 12 May Supreme Court decision to quash the death sentence against the journalist and his co-accused.

The leniency shown by the judges discredited the military governments’ absurd accusation that Zaw Thet Htwe was involved in a conspiracy against the military junta, said the international press freedom organisation, joining the BMA in calling for Htwe’s immediate release.

A military court on 28 November 2003 sentenced the sports journalist and eight others to death for "high treason" for attempting to kill the leaders of the military junta. The editor of the First Eleven was accused of sending information to opposition militants abroad. He was tortured during interrogation carried out by the military secret service (MIS). His arrest was really linked to the success of his sports magazine First Eleven, specialising in football, and its independent editorial line.

His three co-defendants Min Kyi, Aye Myint and Zaw Myo Htet were accused of sending information to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Five other defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment. The families were only notified of the verdicts the following day.

At the beginning of April, their lawyer, U Naing Ngwe Ya, said; "They were not found in possession of any explosives or anti-government documents (...). There was no act of treason and they should be immediately and unconditionally released."

Also in April, Reporters Without Borders and the BMA urged the Supreme Court, in the light of the arbitrary and unfair trial in the lower court, to accept the innocence of the journalist and his fellow accused

Htwe’s wife, Ma Khine Cho Zaw Win, is to be allowed visit her husband in Insein Prison on 23 May.

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