The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and Free Burma VJ campaign welcome the recent announcement that prisoners will be released in Burma. The government should include among those released the 17 video journalists jailed for their work for DVB.
Their early release from decades-long sentences would give a strong indication that it is serious about its pledges to reform the political and media environments.
The reporters were jailed on highly arbitrary charges that are incompatible with a country supposedly transitioning to democracy. Observers have long claimed that pledges of reform are meaningless unless political prisoners are freed.
In August this year, 21-year-old Sithu Zeya had his eight-year sentence extended by a decade for apparent breach of the Electronics Act. This came following government statements that the draconian media landscape would soon see positive progress, thus rendering its pledge false. 18 years in jail is a despicable punishment for a young man who aspired to see an independent media environment flourish in Burma.
The signs of openness emerging in Burma must be encouraged, but we are obliged to continue scrutinising the changes until they are accompanied by tangible proof of the government’s good intentions. Releasing its vice-like grip on the media, and freeing journalists and other political prisoners, will be a huge and welcome step.