Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association condemn the arrest of Zaw Thet Htwe on 13 June for assisting in the distribution of food and clothes in areas hit by Cyclone Nargis. While editor of the sports magazine First Eleven Journal in 2003, he was arrested, tortured and sentenced to death, and then pardoned by the supreme court.
“Zaw Thet Htwe is a respected journalist who was moved by the woes of his compatriots after the cyclone,” the two organisations said. “Banned by the military government’s censorship from writing openly about the tragedy in his magazine, he decided to act. We urge UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon to intercede with the Burmese authorities so that civilians distributing aid should no longer be treated as criminals, and so that the Burmese and international media should be allowed to operate freely in the cyclone-hit areas.”
At least eight journalists and one blogger are currently in prison in Burma.
Zaw Thet Htwe was arrested by members of the military police while with his seriously-ill mother in the central city of Minbu on 13 June. The police searched his home in Rangoon yesterday. His wife, fellow journalist Ma Khine Cho, told Democratic Voice of Burma, an exile radio station, that the police confiscated his mobile, phone, computer and various documents.
Like the comedian and blogger known as Zarganar, Zaw Thet Htwe had been helping to channel relief to the victims of the Cyclone Nargis. Zarganar was arrested on 4 June after talking to the foreign news media about the slowness of the relief efforts being organised by the military government.
A Rangoon-based journalist reported that the authorities have stepped up control of cameras in the delta region. Equipment has been seized from the home of private individuals for fear that it could be used to film or photograph victims.
A military court sentenced Zaw Thet Htwe and eight other people for “high treason” on 28 November 2003. The real reason for Zaw Thet Htwe’s arrest was the success of his football magazine and its independent line. The supreme court commuted his sentence to three years in prison on 12 May 2004 and he was finally released from Insein prison in January 2005.
Blogger Nay Phone Latt has meanwhile been transferred from cell No. 7 to cell No. 3 in Insein prison’s Building 1. During a recent interrogation session, the police threatened to bring other charges against him, in addition to the charge of possessing banned DVDs.