Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association voiced concern about the transfer to the notorious Insein prison of the editor of Myanmar Nation, Thet Zin, and office manager U Sein Win Maung, both arrested on 15 February at the offices of the weekly, since closed by police.
Their trial was due to start today but it was not known whether it would be held at the police station in Thingayun, Rangoon, or before a special court inside Insein jail. They were moved to Insein on 25 February.
Charged under the Printers and Publishers Registration Act, the two face seven years in prison if convicted. They are accused of possessing documents relating to human rights in Burma and the “Saffron Revolution”, which were seized during a search of the offices.
Thet Zin has reportedly told his wife, Khin Swe Myint, that he is still in good physical and psychological health, but he considered it pointless to hire a lawyer to defend them because they had no chance of winning. The entire staff of Myanmar Nation is now unemployed since the authorities closed the paper.
The 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act was inherited from the socialist dictatorship of General Ne Win and has become the main instrument of censorship used by the military junta. All publications (books, newspapers, poetry collections etc.) have to be checked by military censorship which has the power to ban any publication carrying news harmful to state ideology, national solidarity or public order. Jail sentences can be imposed of up to seven years and the equivalent of a 5,000-euros fine.
18.02.2008 - Police raid weekly Myanmar Nation, close it down and arrest editor and manager
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association condemn the arrest of Myanmar Nation editor, Thet Zin, and his office manager, U Sein Win Maung, on the evening of 15 February in Rangoon. Police detained them during a raid on the weekly, which they closed down after finding documents. Thet Zin, 41, has heart and lung ailments.
"The military junta’s promises of a democratic transition must not divert attention from the continuing crackdown on journalists and government opponents”, the two organisations said. "These latest arrests of two people in charge of a privately-owned newspaper, without any justification being offered, are evidence of the junta’s desire to keep the news under complete control and to instill fear in journalists”.
The two organisations added: "We appeal to UN mediator Ibrahim Gambari to condemn the arrest of these two Myanmar Nation journalists, which could be linked to the presence in the newspaper’s offices of a copy of a report by his UN colleague, Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Paulo Sergio Pinheiro”.
Thet Zin and U Sein Win Maung were arrested when police and intelligence officers carried out a four-hour search of the offices of the Myanmar Nation and confiscated many documents, including a copy of Pinheiro’s report, videos of last October’s anti-government street protests, and poems. The two journalists were taken to the headquarters of the interior ministry.
"I don’t know why they were arrested and I am very worried”, said Thet Zin’s wife, Khin Swe Myint, a former political prisoner. She was able to see her husband on 18 February. He reportedly told her that he will be transferred to Insein prison on 19 February and that he will face a possible 10-year prison sentence although he does not know what he is charged with.
The police searched the premises of the Myanmar Nation again on 18 February, confiscating more documents. The offices continue to be closed by the police, who have said the arrests of the two journalists are linked to their activities.
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association call on the authorities to provide information on the situation of the following journalists and writers, who were arrested in recent months : Nobel Aye, a journalist with Reader’s World Journal who was arrested in August 2007 ; Lay Lay Mon, a writer with Teen Magazine ; Min Han, a poet held since 2 January in Insein prison ; Nay Htet Naing, a poet held since 2 January in Insein prison ; and Ko Ko Maung, a poet also known as Zaw Lu Sein.