Bangkok, September 15, 2011--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the 10-year jail sentence handed down to Burmese journalist Sithu Zeya, a photographer with the Norway-based, exile-run Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), and calls on the government to reverse the ruling and stop its retaliation against exile-affiliated journalists.
The 21-year-old reporter was first arrested for photographing the aftermath of an April 2010 bomb blast in the old capital of Rangoon and was sentenced to eight years in prison under the Unlawful Association and Immigration acts. DVB and other Burmese exile media groups have reported that the journalist has been tortured and held in harsh solitary confinement in Rangoon's notorious Insein Prison.
A Rangoon court ruled on Wednesday that Sithu Zeya's online activities represented a violation of the Electronics Act and threatened to "damage the tranquility and unity in the government," international press reports said. The new ruling handed down on Wednesday brings his total sentence to 18 years. His lawyer, Aung Thein, said he planned to appeal the decision in a Rangoon divisional high court, according to a DVB report.
"The punitive sentencing of Sithu Zeya further shows that nothing has substantially changed for the press under Burma's new government," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "We call on the government to immediately release Sithu Zeya, and all of the other journalists wrongfully held behind bars, to show the world that President Thein Sein is willing to match his reform rhetoric with meaningful action."
In recent public speeches, Thein Sein has vowed to take a more liberal approach toward the Burmese media, now among the most restricted in the world. Government censors continue to reject all news that could be perceived as critical of the government, top politicians, or military leaders.
There are currently at least 14 journalists and media support workers, including five DVB reporters identified by name, behind bars in Burma, CPJ research shows. DVB claims 17 of its reporters are in prison, 12 of whom have remained unnamed due to fears of reprisal for their affiliation.
CPJ is scheduled to release a special report on Burma on September 20.