Myanmar press stage rare protest against journalist's conviction

Protest held after jailing of newspaper journalist who was working on a story about corruption

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 January, 2014, 1:54pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 January, 2014, 4:29am


Scores of journalists staged a rare demonstration yesterday in Myanmar's biggest city in protest at a jail term handed down to a reporter who was working on a story about corruption.

Wearing black T-shirts with slogans reading, "We don't want threat on Press Freedom," and carrying banners saying, "Right to Information is life of democracy," nearly 60 reporters marched down a busy downtown Yangon street decrying the three- month prison sentence given to Ma Khine from the Daily Eleven newspaper.

She was convicted by a court in eastern Kayah state last month of trespassing, using abusive language and defamation.

Journalists have gained new freedoms under the reformist government of President Thein Sein, who since taking office in 2011 has abolished most censorship and allowed the publication of privately owned daily newspapers for the first time in almost five decades.

Reporters previously worked under some of the tightest restrictions in the world, subject to routine state surveillance, phone taps and censorship across all publications. However, even under recent reforms, some publications have been sued for defamation, including by government agencies. Ma Khine is the first journalist under Thein Sein's government to be given a prison sentence.

Ma Khine was sued by a lawyer after she visited her house for an interview for a story about corruption. The lawyer was annoyed by her questioning, asked her to leave and later filed a lawsuit, according to Wai Phyo, chief editor of the Daily Eleven.

"The judge could have imposed a fine but deliberately gave the prison sentence not only to threaten the reporter but to threaten press freedom," he said.

Local and international media and journalism watchdog organisations including The World Association of Newspapers, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders issued statements strongly condemning the prison sentence.