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Burma20.02.2009

On eve of major amnesty, call for release of 16 journalists and cyber-dissidents

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Reporters Without Borders takes note of the government’s decision, announced today, to start freeing 6,313 prisoners tomorrow, but reiterates its call for the release of the 16 journalists and cyber-dissidents held in Burma.

A Rangoon court also reduced blogger Nay Phone Latt’s jail sentence from 20 years and six months to 12 years today, four days after comedian Zarganar’s jail sentence was cut from 59 to 25 years. The original sentences were imposed last November by a special court inside Rangoon’s Insein prison.

“This sudden amnesty and the reduction in the two cyber-dissidents’ sentences coincides with a visit to Burma by the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We hope this is not just a manoeuvre for the international community’s benefit.”

The press freedom organisation added: “We call for the release of Zarganar, Nay Phone Latt, Aung Kyaw San, Zaw Thet Htwe, Eine Khine Oo, Kyaw Kyaw Thant, Thant Zin Aung, Thet Zin, U Sein Win Maung, Win Saing, U Thaung Sein, Ko Moe Htun, Ne Min, Monywa Aung-Shin and Aung Htun, as well as all the people who were arrested for providing information about the September 2007 protests and the May 2008 cyclone.”

Nay Phone Latt was transferred from Insein prison (located just to the north of the capital) to Pa-an prison in the eastern state of Karen at the end of last year. Aged 28 and the owner of two Rangoon Internet cafés, he was arrested on 29 January 2008 in possession of a video that has been banned by the military government. The original sentence was passed on 10 November.

Nay Phone Latt kept a blog (http://www.nayphonelatt.net) in which he described the difficulties that Burmese youth have to express themselves, especially since the street demonstrations by Buddhist monks and young people in the autumn of 2007. The blog was also a very important source of information about this so-called Saffron Revolution. The government cracked down hard on those who participated in or reported on the protests.

He has an eye ailment but the authorities have not allowed him to see a doctor.

Zarganar was arrested after giving an interview to the BBC about the situation of the victims of Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. Charged on 5 June with “disturbing public order,” he received a 45-year prison sentence from the Insein prison court on 21 November, and was given an additional 14-year prison sentence a few days later.

Previously arrested in September 2007 for supporting the peaceful demonstrations being staged by Buddhist monks, he had been forbidden since 2006 to embark on new artistic activities, including theatre and filmmaking.

A sports journalist, Zaw Thet Htwe, was also arrested for gathering information about the situation in the Irrawaddy delta after the cyclone. He received an initial sentence of 15 years in prison, which was increased to 19 years on the basis of additional charges a few days later. This was reduced today to 11 years.




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