Yangon reporter jailed for interview

YANGON - A Myanmar reporter has been handed a one-year prison term for trying to interview an education official, his lawyer said Tuesday, in the latest prosecution to raise fears over press freedom in the former junta-run nation.

Zaw Pe, a journalist for the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) news website, was convicted of trespassing and "disturbing a civil servant" by a court in the central town of Magway on Monday, lawyer Thein Tun told AFP.

He was jailed along with Win Myint Hlaing, the father of a student who accompanied him during a visit to the education department in Magway region to follow up a story about a scholarship programme in August 2012.

"They went into the educational office with a simple intention. The student's father went there because he wanted to know more information (about the programme) and Zaw Pe went in to report back to the people," said Thein Tun.

He said both men were appealing their sentences.

"DVB is confident that reporter Zaw Pe was fulfilling his responsibility as a news reporter," the news group said in a statement denouncing the court ruling, adding he was "working in the public interest".

DVB was a prominent source of independent information during Myanmar's long years of junta rule, when it operated from Norway and Thailand, and several of its journalists were given lengthy prison sentences for covertly reporting within the country.

The website was one of several foreign-based news organisations to be lambasted on a daily basis in Myanmar's state media for spreading "killer broadcasts" in the isolated nation.

But reforms implemented by a new quasi-civilian government, including the release of political prisoners and increased press freedoms, have seen former exile publications operate legally from within the country.

In 2012 Myanmar abolished draconian pre-publication censorship, which had stifled everything from song lyrics to books and newspapers.

The country has since come under criticism for creating a number of new press laws that observers fear have created an opaque legal atmosphere for journalists to work in.

Myanmar ranked 145th of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

In February, four journalists and the chief executive of the Unity Weekly News were arrested and charged under the official secrets act after they published allegations of a military facility producing chemical weapons.

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