POSTED: 4:48 a.m. HST, Sep 15, 2011
BANGKOK >> International press watchdog Reporters Without Borders criticized authorities in Myanmar for sentencing an independent journalist to an additional 10-year prison term, saying the move showed the new government was not sincere about reform.
Sithu Zeya, who had worked for the Norway-based news broadcaster Democratic Voice of Burma, had already been sentenced in 2010 to eight years in jail after he was caught photographing the aftermath of a grenade attack in the country’s main city of Yangon.
On Wednesday, a Yangon court sentenced the 21-year-old to 10 more years behind bars on a new charge of circulating material online that could “damage tranquillity and unity in the government” under the country’s Electronic Act, Reporters Without Borders said.
The new charge brings Sethu Zeya’s total sentence to 18 years.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been ruled by the military since 1962. But in March the junta ceded power to a civilian government. The handover was the culmination of what the junta had called its “roadmap to democracy,” but the change saw a clique of retired generals assume top civilian posts and critics say it is only a proxy for continued military rule.
International observers condemned last November’s elections, which made the handover possible, as neither free nor fair. But they welcomed the release of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi shortly afterward and several visiting diplomats have recently expressed hope the country could be on the verge of substantive change.
“How can the Burmese government claim to be on the road to democracy when its judicial system flouts fundamental human rights?” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement late Wednesday, criticizing the latest sentence against Sithu Zeya. “Recent events show that the conciliatory gestures so far taken by this government are just part of a PR strategy and are not indicative of a real intention to give Burmese citizens more media freedom.”
The Democratic Voice of Burma says around 25 journalists are currently detained in Myanmar, 17 of them its own.
Rights groups says the government is also still holding more than 2,000 political prisoners.