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Journalists criticise jailing of BBC reporter in Myanmar

June 7, 2016

Fellow journalists Tuesday criticised the jailing of a local BBC reporter, saying the sentence could damage the reputation of Myanmar’s new democratic government.

Nay Myo Lin, a Mandalay-based journalist for BBC’s Myanmar-language service, was Monday sentenced to three months in prison with hard labour for allegedly striking a policeman while covering a student rally in March.

“We believe that such a harsh sentence meted out against a journalist could tarnish the image of the civilian government” that “espouses… democracy and reform,” Myanmar’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club said in a statement.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party ended nearly half a century of military rule after it swept November polls. It took office earlier this year.

The landslide victory was a culmination of the Nobel peace prize winner’s long struggle against a junta that drew international opprobrium for blocking a free press, routinely throwing dissidents behind bars and keeping Suu Kyi herself under house arrest for some 15 years.

Speaking after the verdict was announced, Nay Myo Lin told media he was trying to protect an activist when the scuffle took place.

“I did not have any intention to hurt police. I tried to protect a citizen who was treated badly in front of me,” he said.

The BBC said in a statement Tuesday it would help Nay Myo Lin, who had pleaded not guilty, in his efforts to appeal the verdict.

Under the junta journalists were frequently jailed or entangled in legal charges, while the media was muzzled by a harsh pre-publication censorship regime.

Nay Myo Lin was covering a rally calling for the release of scores of students. They had been detained for protesting against a law crafted by the former military-dominated government.

Most of the cases were dropped as part of Suu Kyi’s first effort to free political prisoners.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.