Magway Township Court has sentenced Democratic Voice of Burma reporter Thura Thet Tin, aka Zaw Pe, and a parent Win Myint Hlaing for one year in jail on April 7 for trespassing, obstructing officials on duty and conspiracy to do so, according to local sources.

Magway Region Education Office filed a lawsuit against the two on August 25, 2012 after they questioned officials about qualification criteria of students being sent to Japan under the Kizuna Project, run by the Japanese government.

Thura Thet Tin’s lawyer Thein Tun said that they were given one-year jail term each in accordance with Sections 353 and 448 of the Penal Code.

Deputy education administrator Maung Ngwe for the region was the plaintiff in the case. And the court finalised the verdict following its final hearing on March 26.

Although the defendants lodged an appeal to the Regional Supreme Court, the appellate review was denied.

“I did what I should as a journalist. I say there is no rule of law as we’re sued and jailed [unfairly]. This shows how far President Thein Sein’s democratic reform and Myanmar’s media freedom reach. I stood against the case in accordance with the law. Our sentences clearly show whether the legal system is independent or under the administrative sector. I’d like to speak to the people about this case. I will leave this job for good if they say I was wrong in this case,” said the DVB reporter.

“I’m sure the people will live in fear of any case with the government departments in the future,” said Win Myint Hlaing.

Eleven Media tried to contact the township judge Man Hauk Nan about the case, but she declined to comment.

On giving judgment, Man Hauk Nuan read the sentence so very softly that the two defendants, their lawyers and many of the people in the courtroom said they didn’t hear the ruling clearly on how many years the jail term would or why they were sentenced to imprisonment.

The local reporters said sentencing the reporter and a student’s parents may have been linked to Magway Region Chief Minister Hpone Maw Shwe’s power. He was the chairperson of the regional council during the rule of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

Under his administration as regional chief minister, journalists in Magway were arrested. Two journalists from Eleven Media Group were also detained.

Recently, the government has detained five individuals from Unity journal, including its CEO, in connection with a report on a secret weapons factory. They are presently facing the indictments at the Pakokku district court.

During the fifth court hearing on March 17, plaintiff Lt-Colonel Kyaw Kyaw Oo said he received a letter signed by Hla Tun, director-general of the President’s Office, ordering to charge the reporters under the existing laws. They are currently being charged for leaking official secrets, under a colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

DVB reporter Thura Thet Tin was also arrested in 2010 May under the previous government, while he reported on the scarcity of drinking water in Thamonepin village in Natmauk. He was sent to prison for three years for unauthorised video shooting but was released in 2012.

“Journalists are usually sued with Section 448 and Section 353. The latter is for obstruction of authorities’ duty. If journalists ask questions to government staff for the sake of access information, it does not hinder anyones duty. Obstruction means intimidating or violent attack. But I had only camera and took video recording. Then I just asked for information. Concerning with the Section 448 for trespass, I’ve already discussed this with the lawyer. Trespass means invading privately owned area. For this case, the journalist went to the government office, which is a public area, within offices hour. Then I asked for the news. I don’t think it is not the trespass. The country is now transforming into a democracy state under the new government administration. They said they gave the media freedom. We accept that we get the media freedom to some extent. However, taking action against the journalists by using the outdated penal codes and laws is totally opposite to the country’s democratic reforms,” said Khin Maung Win, the executive director for the DVB.

DVB reporter Thura Thet Tin, aged 41, lives in Kantharyat of Magway with his wife and their two-year-old son. Critics say the prison sentence is not in line with the recently enacted Media Law.

The law, which was passed in parliament on March 14, says:

“If any of the responsibilities or ethics required in Article 9 are considered to be breached by a news media worker, the aggrieved department, organisation, or individual shall have the right to complain to the council first”. If the two parties cannot reach a compromise agreement after meeting with the council as mentioned in Article 21, “The complainant or aggrieved party can prosecute the other party at the relevant court under applicable laws.”

“The Media Law states that a news media person can be reported to the council first if he or she breaches his or her responsibilities or ethics,” said a legal expert, who requested not to be named. “Although the Media Council has not been formed yet in accord with the Law, we still have the Myanmar
Press Council (Interim). If negotiation cannot be reached in front of the Council, the complainant can sue the other party in accordance with the law. ”

“In this incident, the authorities should have negotiated with the council first in line with this Law if they don’t want to oppress the media and recognise media freedom. As they didn’t inform the council and negotiated with them, [the court’s verdict] for imprisonment does not conform to the Media Law,” said a legal expert.

The media bill was enacted on March 14, 2014 just before the verdict was handed to the DVB reporter. The court’s decision on giving the verdict to the DVB’s reporter went against the newly approved legislation.

“The case has no legal ground and should not lead to imprisonment. The punishment of one year’s imprisonment in this case is very severe which usually happens. No one sues those who are selling the country and those who are taking much bribery. When they are giving punishment, they are just being transferred to departments in other states and regions or they are just forced to retired. If we review the current situation, the government’s indirect way of controlling the media is getting heavier. In the transition period to democracy in Myanmar, the public must realise that democratic hope is fading away. We must urge the international community to put pressure on the government. The international community and the people should consider how to press on the government for democratic reforms and values,” said Dr Than Htut Aung, the CEO of the Eleven Media Group.

Eleven Media Group will oppose such a severe sentence by publishing black front page covers on the Daily Eleven and the Premier Eleven Sports Journal on Friday April 11.