Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association condemned additional prison terms imposed today by a special court inside Insein jail against three prisoners including famous comedian and blogger Zarganar and the sports journalist Zaw Thet Htwe.
Zarganar had an extra 14 years added to the 45-year sentence handed down by a special court on 21 November while Zaw Thet Htwe had a further four years added to the 15-year-sentence also imposed at the same trial. The extra sentences were in both cases on the same charges.
Thant Zin Aung, a video journalist living in Thailand, received a further three years for disobedience to add to the 15 years he received at the same trial as the other two.
He had accompanied Zaw Thet Htwe and Zarganar when they delivered aid to the victims of Cyclone Nargis. Thant Zin Aung was arrested at the airport as he tried to leave for Thailand carrying a video containing footage of the Irrawaddy Delta disaster.
“The use of these extra prison terms shows that the junta is clearly trying to destroy its potential opponents both physically and morally. It is unthinkable that these people should receive such harsh prison sentences for having assisted the victims of a natural disaster and bearing witness to their suffering”, the two organisations said.
Insein prison trials called insult to rule of law and international community
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association strongly condemn the trials currently taking place in Insein prison, where a special court today sentenced well-known comedian and blogger Zarganar to 45 years in prison and sports journalist Zaw Thet Htwe to 15 years in prison.
They could receive additional sentences on other charges in the coming days and, like blogger Nay Phone Latt and poet Saw Wai in the past week, they could now also be transferred to remote prisons with very poor sanitary conditions.
“This wave of sham trials is the latest outrageous action by a military government that wants to crush the least sign of protest before elections supposed to take place in 2010,” the two organisations said. “Jail terms with a combined total of several hundred years have been imposed in the past two weeks on poets, bloggers, monks, comedians, singers, ethnic minority leaders, trade unions and political activists.”
They added: “All of Burma’s lifeblood has been neutralised and silenced by a subservient judicial system. These trials are a disgrace for the international community, especially China and ASEAN, which did nothing to prevent them.”
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association urge the European Union and United Nations to adopt targeted sanctions against the interior minister, Gen. Maung Oo, who orchestrated the trials using the Special Branch of the police.
They also call on the EU to extend the list of Burmese officials targeted by political sanctions to include the head of the judicial system, U Aung Toe, and the following judges who took part in these trials: Daw Aye Myaing, U Thaung Nyunt, Daw Soe Nyan, Daw Than Than, Daw Nyunt Win and U Tin Htut. The Burma Lawyers’ Council and the Global Justice Centre identified them as the judges chiefly responsible for these trials.
In today’s trials, Zarganar got his 45-year sentence under the Electronic Law. Sports journalist Zaw Thet Htwe got his 15-year sentence above all for photos he took during last May’s referendum. One of Zarganar’s students, Tin Maung Aye, received a 29-year prison sentence.
A monk, Ashin Gambira, got a 12-year jail term today for helping participants in last year’s protests. He has already been sentenced to 56 years in prison on other charges.
The trials being held in Insein prison violate international standards and, often, Burma’s own laws as well. The defendants’ families and lawyers are rarely notified about the trials and witnesses for the defence are not allowed. The police and judges have also been violating limits on the length of pre-trial detention.
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association therefore also support the call made by U Win Tin, a leading journalist and member of the opposition National League for Democracy, to United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon not to go to Burma under the current circumstances.
Nicknamed the “Burmese Chaplin” and known for his outspoken comments, Zarganar was arrested on 4 June after talking to the BBC World Service and other foreign news media about the delays in the humanitarian relief organised by the military after Cyclone Nargis. He also wrote in his blog about the activities of the country’s Buddhist monks during the September 2007 protests and after the cyclone in May.
The former editor of the sports magazine First Eleven Journal, Zaw Thet Htwe was arrested by military police on 13 June. The police searched his Rangoon home two days later, confiscating files, his mobile phone and his computer.
Both Zaw Thet Htwe and Zarganar played an active role in helping Nargis victims.