The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) welcomes the early release of journalists Thaung Tun and Than Win Hlaing on 3 January 2007 after six years of imprisonment by the Burmese military junta. The two were among 2,831 detainees “pardoned” in conjunction with the nation’s 59th year of independence on 4 January.
Thaung, who is better known by his pseudonym Nyein Thit, is a videographer, editor and reporter. He was sentenced in December 1999 to eight years in prison for collecting and spreading abroad information about human rights violations in Burma. He is a recipient of the 2004 CPJ International Press Freedom Awards.
Than was a journalist with the “Mya Yeik Nyo Journal”. He was arrested in June 2000 and sentenced to seven years in prison for mentioning in his writing house-arrested Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her father, the late Gen. Aung San.
While their release brings a little cheer for the new year, it must be noted that Burma’s record in human rights, including freedom of expression, remains appalling. Last year, at least four persons were jailed for exercising their right to free expression. Aung Than, a National League for Democracy (NLD) member, and Zeya Aung, a Pegu University student, are each serving a 19-year sentence for publishing a book of poems, “Dawn Mann” (the fighting spirit of the peacock), in support of the NLD, which takes its symbol from the peacock. Meanwhile, journalists Ko Thar Cho and Ko Moe Htun are each serving a three-year sentence for shooting stills and films of the new capital Pyinmana.
However, there is a ray of light in the long-awaited inclusion of Burma on the permanent agenda of the United Nations Security Council as of September 2006. SEAPA believes that concerted world attention on the deplorable human rights situation will add impetus to local, regional and international efforts to restore democracy and free expression in Burma.