Sr. Gen. Than Shwe
Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council
7 January 2010
We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, to express our serious concern at the sentencing to 20 years in jail of journalist Hla Hla Win.
According to reports, a court in Pakokku sentenced Hla Hla Win, a freelance video journalist who allegedly provided film to the exiled broadcaster Democratic Voice of Burma, to 20 years in jail on 31 December for a "violation" of the Electronic Law. Myint Naing, who was with her at the time of the arrest on 11 September, was given a 26-year sentence. They were arrested as they left a monastery after interviewing several monks. Hla Hla Win had already been sentenced to seven years in prison in October under the Export-Import Act for using an illegally imported motorcycle.
We are seriously concerned that the crackdown on sending photos and video abroad that began in 2007 may be intensified in the run-up to this year's elections. Around 20 journalists and bloggers have been arrested since then and at least 13 are currently in jail, most of them in very harsh conditions. Under current law, anyone who uses the internet to send information abroad faces prosecution under article 33 (A) of the Electronic Law.
We respectfully remind you that imprisoning journalists for carrying out their professional activities constitutes a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Declaration states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers."
We respectfully call on you to ensure that Hla Hla Win and all others held in detention for exercising their right to freedom of expression are immediately released and that the government's crackdown on the media is halted. We also urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that in future your country fully respects international standards of free expression.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Editors Forum