Burmese Military Sentences Journalist to Death

12 December 2003
Source: Article 19

We condemn the death sentence imposed on Burmese magazine editor Zaw Thet Htwe for allegedly committing high treason by plotting to murder senior government figures.

Zaw Thet Htwe, editor-in-chief of First Eleven Sports Journal, was sentenced to death on 28 November by a Rangoon military court under Article 122/1 of the Law on High Treason for allegedly trying to murder leaders of the State Peace and Development Council. The Burmese military accused him of participating in the planning of a series of bombings and of working with members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to stir up unrest. Four other journalists who work for the magazine were detained for several days.

The arrest follows Htwe’s publication of a story alleging misuse of an international donation of US$4 million intended to promote football in Burma and of an article reporting a fine imposed by the organisers of the Asian Champion Club tournament on a Burmese football team for its failure to participate. First Eleven Sports Journal, with a circulation of more than 50,000, is Burma’s most widely read sports magazine. According to our sources, little evidence has been provided to back up the government’s claims and there is no proof of NLD involvement in the alleged plot. The military government has denied claims that Htwe’s arrest was linked to his work as a journalist. The Burmese government frequently makes accusations of treason and other criminal offences against people it wants to target and more than 20 Burmese journalists are currently in prison.

In our view, the imposition of such an extreme penalty, particularly in these circumstances, highlights once again the contempt the Burmese government has consistently demonstrated for freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights. The right to freedom of expression, universally recognised as fundamental underpinning of democracy, is guaranteed at Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We condemn the death sentence imposed on Htwe and call on the Burmese Government to take all necessary steps to ensure that it is not imposed and that his right to freedom of expression, and to expose wrongdoing and incompetence, is respected.

For more information or comments contact the Media Office, Forum-Asia, in Bangkok on +66 6 0605372, email media@forumasia.org or Jessica Newton, ARTICLE 19, in London on +44 20 7239-1187, email: Jessica@article19.org

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