Updated: 04/12/2014 00:12 | By Agence France-Presse

Rights group decries Myanmar reporter jail term

Reporters Without Borders said Friday it was "outraged" by the imprisonment of a Myanmar journalist for trying to interview an education official, as local newspapers ran black front pages in protest.


Rights group decries Myanmar reporter jail term

Newspapers with a black front page are displayed at a stall in Yangon, Myanmar, on April 11, 2014 - by Ye Aung Thu

Zaw Pe, a journalist for the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) news website, was convicted by a court in the central town of Magway on Monday for "disturbing a civil servant" and trespassing.

He was jailed along with Win Myint Hlaing, the father of a student who accompanied him during a visit to the local education department about a story on a scholarship programme in 2012.

"It is unacceptable that local officials can obstruct a journalist's work and have him sentenced to imprisonment just because they feel he disturbed them," Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Asia-Pacific head Benjamin Ismail said in a statement.

"We call on the local authorities to release Zaw Pe and we ask the government to ensure that media freedom is respected equally everywhere."

Myanmar ranked 145th out of 180 countries in the latest RSF press freedom index, reflecting "substantial" improvements under the country's quasi-civilian regime.

But the media watchdog warned that the reform process was beginning to "flag".

Myanmar journalists have staged rallies against the sentencing this week, while several newspapers on Friday ran black sections across their front pages to register their dismay.

The outspoken Daily Eleven Newspaper said it was "denouncing the unfair arrest, investigation and jailing of journalists".

Both men are planning to appeal their sentences, according to their lawyer Thein Tun.

DVB was a prominent source of independent information during Myanmar's long years of junta rule, when it operated from Norway and Thailand. 

At that time several of its journalists were given lengthy prison sentences for covertly reporting within the country.

The website was one of several foreign-based news organisations to be lambasted on a daily basis in Myanmar's state media for spreading "killer broadcasts" in the isolated nation.

But reforms implemented after the end of outright military rule in 2011, including the release of political prisoners and increased press freedoms, have seen former exile publications operate legally from within the country.

In 2012 Myanmar abolished draconian pre-publication censorship, which had stifled everything from song lyrics to books and newspapers. 

The country has since come under criticism for creating a number of new press laws that observers fear have created an opaque legal atmosphere for journalists.

In February, four journalists and the chief executive of the Unity Weekly News were arrested and charged under the official secrets act after they published allegations of a military facility producing chemical weapons. 

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