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Burma 3 December 2003

Outrage over death sentence passed on sports magazine chief editor

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) and the Burma Media Association (BMA) today voiced outrage at the death sentences passed by a court martial on 28 November on sports journalist Zaw Thet Htwe and eight other persons for allegedly trying to kill the members of Burma’s military junta.

"Your government has once again shown its criminal attitude towards journalists who refuse to comply with orders," the two organisations said in a joint letter to the prime minister, Gen. Khin Nyunt. "We challenge you to provide the evidence of this journalist’s implication in a coup attempt," the letter added.

The editor of the sports magazine First Eleven, Zaw Thet Htwe and the other eight were convicted and sentenced to death by a Rangoon court martial under article 122/1 of the law on high treason for supposedly trying to murder the leaders of the SPDC (the ruling junta). The others are Aye Myint (a lawyer), Zaw Zaw, Zar Naing Htun, Ne Win, Shwe Mann, Than Htun, Myo Htway and Nai Min Kyi. The last public execution was held in Burma in 1988, the magazine Irrawaddy said.

All nine were arrested on 17 July 2003 by members of Military Intelligence (MI). Zaw Thet Htwe was arrested at the First Eleven office in Rangoon. Four other journalists working for the magazine were also detained for several days.

A member of the military junta, Col. San Pwint, announced on 26 July that the security services had thwarted a planned series of bombings in which 12 suspects were implicated, including Zaw Thet Htwe. They were also accused of contacts with political organisations in exile.

A former political prisoner, Zaw Thet Htwe already served a four-year prison sentence in the early 1990s for his activities as a member of the Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS), and he was reportedly tortured during interrogation.

His arrest in July is thought to have been prompted by a report in First Eleven raising questions about the use of an international donation of four million dollars to promote football in Burma. The country’s most widely-read sports magazine, with a circulation of 50,000, First Eleven shortly thereafter carried a report about a fine imposed by the organisers of an Asian football tournament (the Asian Champion Club) on a Burmese team that failed to take part.

On 24 July, the military junta denied the claims of Reporters Without Borders and the BMA that Zaw Thet Htwe’s arrest was linked to his work as a journalist.

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