Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association voiced "relief and joy" at the announced release by Burma’s ruling military junta today of more than 200 political prisoners including journalist Sein Hla Oo and documentary filmmaker Aung Pwint.
"We hope these releases represent the start of a new period for the press in Burma," the two organisations said. "The authorities must now adopt the necessary measures that will allow them to resume their work as journalists. We also point out that six other journalists are still being held by the Burmese authorities."
Aged more than 70, Sein Hla Oo was released from Myitkyina prison (1,000 km north of Rangoon) after being held for nearly 11 years in harsh conditions. One of his cellmates said his health got much worse while in prison. He reportedly has diabetes and kidney problems.
Aung Pwint, whose release was confirmed by his son, was arrested in September 1999 and convicted of "illegal possession of a fax machine" and of "transmitting information to banned Burmese publications."
Some sources said Win Tin might also be among those released but others denied this. Friends and family and aides of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said he was still being held in Insein prison, where he reportedly received a visit from the interior minister today. Win Tin is Burma’s longest-held prisoner of conscience and 4 July was the 16th anniversary of his arrest.
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association also point out that the Burmese junta is still holding five people who were arrested on 3 July for listening to the Voice of America and the BBC.
Over 13 years ago, Reporters without Borders created its "Sponsorship Programme" and called upon the international media to select and support an imprisoned journalist. More than two hundreds news staffs around the globe are thus sponsoring colleagues by regularly petitioning authorities for their release and by publicising their situations so
that their cases will not be forgotten.
Currently, Sein Hla Oo is sponsored by Aftonbladet, Com Radio, Agencia EFE, Festival international du scoop et du journalisme, France Inter, Le Progrès de cornouaille, le courrier du léon, Libération, Nord Eclair, El Mundo, El Diario Vasco, El Triangle, Avui.
Currently, Aung Pwint is sponsored by NRJ.