01/07/2014, 00.00
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Yangon: dozens of journalists protest over prison sentence for colleague

Ma Khine, a reporter for the Daily Eleven, will have to serve three months for "defamation". The first journalist sent to prison under the presidency of reformist Thein Sein . The woman was investigating a story of corruption. Burma press secretary denounces a “dangerous precedent”.

Yangon ( AsiaNews / Agencies) - This morning, dozens of Burmese journalists staged a public rally in Yangon, the largest city of Myanmar, to protest against the prison sentence imposed on one of their colleagues who was working on a story about corruption. Street demonstrations, especially involving media and press, are a rare occurrence in the former Burma, nation governed for over 50 years by a ferocious military dictatorship and, since 2011, engaged in a long process of democratic reforms.

The journalists - more than 60 according to local sources - carried signs and banners through the streets of the commercial capital of Myanmar, branding Daily Eleven reporter, Ma Khine's sentencing to three months in prison as illegitimate and contrary to human rights. The judgement was issued by a court in Karenni State , in the eastern part of the country. Last month she was indicted for breaking and entering, offensive language and defamation.

The demonstrators wore black T-shirts and chanted slogans such as: "No threats to press freedom". Among the banners was one that read: "The right to information is vital to a democracy."

Ma Khine is the first journalist sentenced under President Thein Sein , the woman was sued by a lawyer , after visiting his home for a scheduled interview linked to a case of corruption. The offical was annoyed by the reporters' questions and invited her to leave the apartment, a few days later he filed a lawsuit against her. The judge could impose a fine, says the director of Daily Eleven Wai Phyo , but has " deliberately imposed a prison sentence threatening not only reporters , but also the principle of press freedom".

In recent years, newspapers and journalists in Myanmar have gained greater freedom than in the past, during the military dictatorship, thanks to a path of economic, social and political reforms set by President Thein Sein. He also removed a great deal of censorship and allowed the publication of private media organizations, for the first time in over 50 years.

Previously reporters were forced to work in the midst of prohibitions and impositions that were among the most restrictive in the world: daily surveillance, monitoring of all phone calls and communications, prior verification of their material. However, even today some publications are subject to inspections, audits, and complaints, in particular promoted by government agencies on the basis of the (alleged) offense of "defamation " . Kyaw Myint , secretary general of the Burma Press Association , took part in the protest because - he said - " we do not want the sentencing of our colleague to set a dangerous precedent ."


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