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Zaw Pe, a reporter for the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), was sentenced to one year imprisonment on Monday by a court in Magwe after being found guilty of “trespassing” and “disturbing a civil servant on duty”.
The charges stem from an incident in August 2012 when Zaw Pe visited the Magwe Division Education Department to conduct an interview about a Japanese-funded scholarship programme. An educational officer subsequently pressed charges against the reporter and Win Myint Hlaing, the father of a student who was inquiring about the scholarships.
Zaw Pe’s lawyer Thein Tun said his client and the co-defendant were sentenced to serve concurrently one year’s imprisonment for trespassing and one year for disturbing a civil servant on duty.
The lawyer criticised the punishment as “harsh” and vowed to appeal the verdict.
DVB Multimedia Group on Monday released a statement denouncing the sentencing.
“DVB is confident that reporter Zaw Pe (a.k.a. Thura Thet Tin) was fulfilling his responsibility as a news reporter to inquire about a scholarship programme at the Magwe Township Education Department, which was in the public interest,” the statement read, “and therefore completely denounce his sentencing.
“Despite all the government officials’ pledges of press reform, we believe the jailing of Zaw Pe is an obstacle to media freedom in the country, and we call for the unconditional release of the reporter and his co-defendant,” the DVB statement read.
David Mathieson, senior researcher on Burma for Human Rights Watch, said, “Zaw Pe’s sentencing is another reprehensible example of the government’s recidivism on press freedoms, pulling out military era provisions to intimidate the media. Unfortunately the national level parliament is failing to repeal these petty provisions utilized by capricious local officials and is instead drafting laws that will intimidate the press and curtail their ability to investigate corruption and malfeasance.”
**An earlier version of this article said that Zaw Pe was sentenced to two years. We apologise for the error.