Reporters Without Borders and Burma Media Association today voiced disgust at the sentencing of four young pro-democracy activists to prison terms of between seven and 19 years for publishing poetry and called for their release.
Burma’s National League for Democracy (NLD) said it would appeal against the verdicts, which were handed down at a trial behind closed bars in Pegu, north of Rangoon, on 9 June. Reporters Without Borders and Burma Media Association, supporting the NLD decision, said that "with the UN Human Rights Council currently meeting in Geneva, this appalling case, which is a serious violation of freedom of expression, should spur the international community to urgently take up the situation in Burma."
The activists are accused of publishing an "anti-government" book of poems called Daung Man — "The Strength of the Fighting Peacock" (a symbol of the Burmese pro-democracy movement).
Two of the four, NLD member Aung Than and Pegu University student Zeya Aung, were also accused of unlawfully crossing the border with Thailand and working with "illegal organisations." They were each given 19-year prison sentences.
Maung Maung Oo, who owns the workshop where the book of poems was printed, was sentenced to 14 years. Sein Hlaing, accused of helping to distribute it, was jailed for seven years and was also convicted of printing t-shirts showing a raised clenched fist, a symbol of struggle, lawyer Mya Hla told the exiled radio station Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB).
Aung Than, Zeya Aung and Maung Maung Oo were sent to Rangoon’s Insein prison and Sein Hlaing was in prison in Pegu.
Three face trial today for pro-democracy poem, five others released
The authorities have freed five of the seven students from Pegu university (north of Rangoon) who were arrested on 29 March for publishing a pro-democracy poem, Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association noted today. They were released on 10 April.
But two of the young people, Maung Maung Oo and Zeya, are still being held in Pegu prison, according to their families, while a third person, Aung Than, has now been arrested in connection with the poem. All three were due to be tried today for producing an “illegal publication” and face up to seven years in prison.
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association call for their immediate release.
Seven students arrested for publishing a poem
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association voiced outrage today at the arrests on 29 March 2006 of seven students from the University of Pegu, north of Rangoon, for writing and publishing a pro-democracy poem. Their arrests came five days after journalists U Thaung Sein and Ko Moe Htun were sentenced to three years in prison for photographing and filming in the new capital of Pyinmana.
“The military authorities restrict freedom of expression by force,” the two organisations said. “Not only are journalists unable to work freely but young people are also being stripped of their rights. We call for the release of the students and journalists currently held in Burma.”
The names of the seven students are as follows (the first two are women): Hnin Wint Wint Soe, May Su Su Win, Ne Linn Kyaw, Thet Oo, Win Min Htut, Maung Maung Oo and Zeya Aung. The title of the poem they composed and circulated is “Daung Man”, which means the Strength of the Fighting Peacock, the symbol of the Burmese pro-democracy movement.
They were found in possession of copies of the poem when arrested. According to the Democratic Voice of Burma, an exile radio station, they were initially held at a Pegu police station. A lawyer said they were subsequently transferred to the city’s prison, but this was not confirmed by the police. The lawyer also said a government prosecutor was visiting them every day and interrogating them. Their families have not been allowed to see them.
Prior censorship and the imprisonment of journalists are the most serious problems which the Burmese press has to face. The country’s most famous journalist, U Win Tin, has been imprisoned in Rangoon since July 1989.