Photographer receives eight-year jail term over blast photos

[Source: Mizzima News]

Photojournalist Sithu Zeya was sentenced to eight years in jail on 21 December for taking photos of the scene of an explosion at a traditional water festival pavilion near a Rangoon lake in April this year, his lawyer said.

Mingalar Taungnyunt Township court sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment for violating section 13(1) of the Immigration Emergency Provisions Act and five years for violating section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act, his lawyer Aung Thein said. He added that it was a miscarriage of justice.

“There was no evidence to substantiate that he made an illegal border crossing or had contacted ‘illegal’ organisations. The verdict was reached based on his confession obtained under [physically abusive] interrogation and other defendants’ uncorroborated confessions. So the verdict is patently unfair,” Aung Thein told Mizzima.

The judges defined as unlawful association Sithu Zeya’s contact with the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), his uncle Daiwa said.  DVB is a Norway-based Burmese exile media outlet.

“In this case, contacting unlawful association meant holding ties to DVB. But as far as I know, the authorities have not published the names of the unlawful organisations,” Daiwa told Mizzima.

Khin Maung Win, deputy chief editor of DVB, said that it had been registered with the Norwegian government, so it was a “legal organisation”.

“The State Peace and Development Council has said for a long time that having links with DVB is making contact with an unlawful association. But DVB is not an illegal organisation. So making contact with it and reporting to DVB is not a violation of the law,” Khin Maung Win told Mizzima.

At first, Sithu Zeya was also charged under the Electronic Act but that indictment was later rescinded, his lawyer said, adding that he would file an appeal against the judgment before the Supreme Court.

Sithu Zeya’s mother Yi Yi Tint decried the court’s decision as unfair. “He just took photographs. And his photos are truthful and … were not published. So as a journalist, his act was not wrong,” Yi Yi Tint told Mizzima.

He was arrested soon after taking photos at the site of the bombings at the X2O water festival pavilion that killed at least eight people and injured more than 60. Two days after his arrest, police went to his home in Bahan Township, Rangoon and arrested his father, Maung Maung Zeya.

Chief police Khin Yi said at a press conference in May that Sithu Zeya and his father had been detained on suspicion of participating in the bombings and that they would be released when they were cleared of the allegations.

“I don’t know too much about law but they said my son was guilty of the crime and I can’t do anything about it. All I can do is to pray that only criminals are detained,” his mother said.

Maung Maung Zeya, Sithu Zeya’s father, had been detained in Insein Prison since his initial arrest and his case was under investigation, Aung Thein said. He added that the defendants had failed to receive a fair trial because the jury made decisions based on the evidence of unreliable witnesses.

Khin Yi on May 6 accused the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors of responsibility for the bomb blast.

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Mizzima News (http://www.mizzima.com/) is a news organization headquartered in New Delhi, India, run by exiled Burmese journalists. A SEAPA partner, it aims to promote awareness about the situation in Burma and promote democracy and freedom of expression in the country.