Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association today voiced their shock at seven-year jail sentences handed down on 28 November to Thet Zin and Sein Win Maung, respectively editor and manager of the privately-owned Myanmar Nation, which has since closed down.
They were sentenced by a court in Thingangyun, near Rangoon under the Printers and Publishers Registration Act for being in possession of documents deemed to be subversive, including a UN Special rapporteur’s human rights report on Burma.
"The Burmese courts, legal arm of a fanatical military power, continues to hand down very harsh prison sentences after sham trials", the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
"In the case of Thet Zin and Sein Win Maung, the judges have imposed the maximum penalty allowed under the press law. What is the most shocking is that none of journalists, bloggers, poets, activists or monks who have recently been sentenced, committed a crime defined as such under Burmese law. Their sole crime is to peacefully oppose the junta", it added.
The same day, 13 members of the ’88 Generation students group’ were sentenced to six years in jail.
Thet Zin and U Sein Win Maung were arrested on 15 February 2008 by police and intelligence agents who also searched the offices of Myanmar Nation, seizing numerous documents including one written by the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, video tapes of popular demonstrations last October and poems. They were both held at the interior ministry before being moved to Insein prison.
Thet Zin, aged 42, has already spent several years in prison. He founded Myanmar Nation in 2006. Since their arrests, the newspaper has been closed and the entire staff is unemployed.
Min Zin, who is a brother of Thet Zin and a Burmese journalist in exile, told the organisations : "The saddest irony is that family members and friends finally felt relieved upon hearing of 7-year sentence handed down by junta’s kangaroo court because most of the high profile dissidents have been receiving average of 20 to 65 year prison sentences since early this month. The concern now is possible transfers of Thet Zin and Sein Win Maung to remote area prisons where political prisoners who have already suffered serious health problems will face greater risk of dying behind bars due to worse prison conditions."
The Printers and Publishers Registration Act of 1962 is a legacy of 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 and so on) have to be checked by the military censor which has the power to ban any content harmful to state ideology, national solidarity and public order. Prison sentences can go up to seven years and fines of the equivalent of 5,000 euros.