Reporter Guilty of Praying for Persecuted Journalists Illegally

By San Yamin Aung 18 December 2015

RANGOON — A Rangoon court on Friday sentenced Shwe Hmone, a senior reporter for a local news journal, to a 15-day prison term or 10,000 kyats (US$7.70) fine for her involvement in a public prayer event held for persecuted journalists late last year.

She was convicted under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law after charges were brought in June for her participation in a demonstration on Nov. 2, 2014, to mark International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. About 150 people gathered at a pagoda in Rangoon to pray for the wellbeing of Burmese journalists subjected to violence or imprisonment.

Organizers sought local authorities’ permission to hold the event, but were only granted approval to gather at a sports field in Tamwe Township, with the activists then deciding to defy the restriction.

Shwe Hmone, who works for the Thamaga News Journal, told The Irrawaddy that though she would have opted to serve the short prison stint, her media colleagues instead paid the financial penalty at the courthouse on Friday.

“I believe I am not guilty. We don’t need permission to pray at a pagoda from the authorities. It is clear that they intentionally persecuted me because I am a media worker,” she said.

Shwe Hmone is just the latest of several journalists to face persecution or criminal prosecution in recent years, most after their reporting offended people or institutions in positions of power.

In July of last year, a Pakokku Township court sentenced four journalists and the CEO of the Unity weekly journal to 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labor under the State Secrets Act, after reporting allegations that a Burma Army facility in Magwe Division was being used to manufacture chemical weapons. A divisional court later reduced the sentences of the five men from 10 to seven years, following an appeal by the defendants.

About three months later, the freelance journalist Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Par Gyi, was shot dead after being apprehended by the Burma Army, ostensibly under suspicion of affiliation with a Karen ethnic rebel group operating in Mon State, where he was killed.

In April of this year, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Burma the world’s ninth most censored country.

“There were many unfair cases against journalists who were detained, charged, and jailed in the last year but the real culprits of the cases are not yet held accountable,” Shwe Hmone said Friday, adding that her defense team would file an appeal in the coming days.