MANDALAY — A court in Magwe Division, central Burma, sentenced a broadcast journalist on Monday to one year in prison for trespassing at an education department office and disrupting the duties of a civil servant there.
Zaw Pe, a video reporter for the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), has faced a lawsuit since 2012 after taking footage at the Magwe Division Education Department and attempting to conduct an interview for a report about Japanese-funded scholarships for local students.
“He was taking the video recording during office hours. It’s outrageous that he is being sentenced for trespassing,” said Toe Zaw Latt, bureau chief of DVB. “We have to question the degree of press freedom in the country.”
The lawsuit was filed by a Magwe township education officer against Zaw Pe as well as Win Myint Hlaing, the father of a student who brought the reporter to the department’s compound.
DVB, which makes video broadcasts and produces print articles in Burmese and English, on Monday condemned the sentencing of its reporter.
“We believe the legal action against Zaw Pe and Win Myint Hlaing is a restriction to media freedom in the country, despite the government officials’ pledges of press freedom. We demand their unconditional release,” DVB said in a statement.
Toe Zaw Latt, the DVB’s bureau chief in Rangoon, told The Irrawaddy that his news agency would try to submit an appeal for the review of the sentencing, in light of a recently enacted media law that gives journalists the right to report at government offices during office hours.
He said recent legal action against journalists could be a sign of a downturn in press freedom in the country.
Four journalists and the chief executive of Rangoon-based Unity journal are now on trial for allegedly violating the Official Secrets Act after reporting on an alleged chemical weapons factory in the country, while a reporter at Eleven Media Group was sentenced to three months in jail in December for defamation and trespass after writing a story about corruption in the judicial system.
“These are not good signs for press freedom, if journalists have to face a lawsuit for covering news during office hours. We are worried that these actions might be a sign of restrictions in press freedom again, as it was in the past,” said Toe Zaw Latt.