Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association today condemned the Mandalay regional court’s decision on appeal to uphold three-year prison sentences for photojournalist U Thaung Sein (also known as U Thar Cho) and columnist Ko Moe Thun (also known as Ko Kyaw Thwin), who writes for the religious magazine Dhamah-Yate (Dhamah’s Shadow). The court issued its ruling on 21 June without hearing any witnesses.
“These long prison sentences for two journalists who just took photos of the new capital, Pyinmana, show how dysfunctional the Burmese judicial system is,” the two organisations said. “We call for their release and the release of the nine other journalists imprisoned in Burma.”
The sentences were imposed in March by a court in Yamaethin, which found them guilty of violating article 32 (A) of the Television and Video Act for taking still photographs and video footage of Pyinmana.
Their lawyer U Khin Maung Zaw initially appealed to the Yamaethin district court in April. But it immediately rejected the appeal, also without summoning witnesses.
Three-year sentences for two journalists who took pictures of new capital
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association voiced outrage today at the three-year prison sentences imposed on journalists U Thaung Sein and Ko Moe Htun for photographing and filming in the new capital, Pyinmana, and thereby allegedly violating article 32 (A) of the Television and Video Act.
"It is a disgrace to see journalists arrested and sentenced just for taking pictures on the streets of Pyinmana," the two organisations said. "This new evidence of paranoia by the military regime jeopardises the possibility of the Burmese and international press working in the new capital. We call for their release."
Also known as Thar Cho, U Thaung Sein, 52, is a photojournalist for several Burmese publications. Ko Moe Htun, 42, who is also known as Ko Kyaw Thwin, is a columnist for the religious magazine Dhamah-Yate (The Shadow of Dhamah).
They were arrested on 23 March while driving around Pyinmana, filming and taking photos. They received their three-year sentences the following day when they appeared before judge Daw Mi Mi Maw of the Yamaethin district court.
Their lawyer, U Khin Maung Zaw, announced his intention to appeal. "They should be freed because the Television and Video Act does not forbid taking pictures in authorized areas and states that such pictures may be used for private purposes," he said. His clients were just using a small amateur camera, he added.
As far as Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association know, this is the first time that Burmese citizens have been given the maximum three-year sentence envisaged under the Television and Video Act, which was adopted in July 1996.
U Thaung Sein and Ko Moe Htun are currently being held in the Yamaethin district prison north of Pyinmana.