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Journalists face constricting climate in Myanmar

The political climate of Myanmar has made the country a hostile place for journalists, as many protest impending jail time for one writer.

Myanmar has seen some swift changes over the past few years. In 2011, President Thein Sein took office and instituted some major political reforms, bringing what many hoped to be long term change to a country that has been marred by internal conflict. However, the country is not out of the woods yet when it comes to promoting a freer and more open democracy.

Many, including a number of journalists,believe that the nation is still quite corrupt, which has been the cause of concern for many, including Ma Khine.

Jailed for three months
Ma Khine is a journalist from Myanmar who was recently charged with defamation, trespassing and using abusive language according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. These charges arose after the publication she wrote for was critical of the government and corruption in the judiciary system.

However, the charges for her arrest were filed after an interview she conducted with Aye Aye Phyo, who is a lawyer practicing in the country. Aye Aye Phyo claimed that Ma Khine forcibly entered her home and defamed her and her father, when she was asked to leave, while Ma Khine claimed that they had agreed to an interview and was asked to leave after a controversial question.

Ma Khine's trial has resulted in a three month jail sentence – one month for each charge. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that she is the first writer to be jailed since Thein Sein released 14 of them in 2012.

"We call for the verdict against journalist Ma Khine to be scrapped on appeal," said the group's Senior Southeast Asia Representative, Shawn Crispin. "The jailing of a journalist on questionable charges shows just how far Burma still needs to go in reforming and scrapping laws that are often used to suppress the media."

Protests in Rangoon
As a result of the ruling, a number of journalists staged a demonstration in Rangoon, the country's largest city, according to Time Magazine. The news source noted that almost 60 protestors marched down one of the busiest downtown streets of the city, speaking out against the sentencing of Ma Khine.

The event is a relative rarity for the country. Prior to Thein Sein, there were strict rules for journalists and individual rights as a whole as a result of the military rule in the country. This made it difficult to report on a number of sensitive topics. But a part of Sein's 2011 reforms abolished censorship and allowed for the publication of privately held daily newspapers. Before this, Time noted, reporters were subject to state surveillance and phone taps, along with the strict censorship measures.

However, limitations on press freedom have still occurred under these reforms. Numerous parties, including the government, have sued publication for defamation, though Ma Khine is the first imprisoned journalist under the Thein Sein government. 

Wai Phyo, the chief editor of the publication Ma Khine wrote for, believes that the sentencing is a threat by the government to other journalists that are considering reporting on similar topics.

"The judge could have imposed a fine but deliberately gave the prison sentence not only to threaten the reporter but to threaten press freedom," he told the news source.

The protest can be viewed from a number of angles. While it is the first time such a protest has been able to occur because of the government reforms, its subject is a major cause of alarm when it comes to individual liberties. If the nation wishes to continue on its course to a more open democracy, it should cease the imprisonment of journalists.

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