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Myanmar journalist gets jail time for trespassing

April 8, 2014

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A court in Myanmar sentenced a journalist to one year in prison for trespassing and obstructing a civil servant while doing a story on education, a spokesman for his media company said Tuesday, in the latest sign the country’s media climate is worsening.

Zaw Pe, a 41-year-old video journalist for Democratic Voice of Burma, was in the central region of Magwe covering the selection of students for a Japanese-funded excursion trip to Japan when he was arrested after interviewing students and filming inside an education department office, said Khin Maung Soe, a DVB spokesman.

Zaw Pe, also known as Thura Thet Tin, also asked an education official a series of questions, and was charged with keeping a civil servant from carrying out his duties. He and the father of one of the students, Win Myint Hlaing, were trying to find out more about the process for selecting the students, Khin Maung Soe said.

The father was also convicted of the same charges and sentenced to one year in prison.

Khin Maung Soe said DVB will appeal the verdict against Zaw Pe, who has been imprisoned before. He was given 3-year sentence in 2010 while doing a story about a water shortage, but released in 2012.

Myanmar only recently emerged from a half-century of military rule, and democratic reforms implemented since a nominally civilian government was installed in 2011 have been widely praised, including the freeing up of its repressive press. But media watchdogs say reporters still face intimidation, arrests and criminal charges, and that the media climate appears to be worsening.

“Media freedom is not just about the lifting of censorship,” said Khin Maung Soe. “If journalists are not allowed to do interviews freely, denied access to information and face criminal charges for their journalistic activities, we cannot call it freedom of press.”

Several other journalists have come under fire in recent months.

Four reporters and chief executive of the private weekly journal, “Unity,” face up to 14 years in prison for violating the country’s state secrets act following publication of a story about an alleged chemical weapons factory in Myanmar.

In addition, a young journalist working for the private “Daily Eleven” newspaper was given three months in jail in December for trespassing, use of abusive language and defamation while working on a story about corruption.

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