YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A journalist and his assistant who were imprisoned for filming inside a government office were freed Friday after an appeals court reduced their sentences from one year to three months.
Zaw Pe, a video reporter for the independent Democratic Voice of Burma media group, and Win Myint Hlaing were convicted in April of trespassing and obstructing a civil servant after filming inside an education department office while investigating the selection process for a Japanese scholarship program in 2012.
Their sentences were reduced because the appeals court agreed with their lawyer that they had acted in their capacity as journalists. The nominally civilian government that replaced military rule has eased censorship and other measures limiting press freedom, but reporters and publishers still face intimidation through lawsuits.
In April, after the two were originally sentenced, several private newspapers printed black front pages to protest the cases against them and other journalists.
"The sentencing of journalists under trespassing charges amounts to bullying," Toe Zaw Latt, the Yangon bureau chief for Democratic Voice of Burma, said Friday. "No journalists doing their journalistic activity should be charged with trespassing. Myanmar now has a media law and the rights of journalists should be protected."
Zaw Pe said he felt no gratitude for his release.
"There is nothing to be happy about because I have been unfairly imprisoned," he said by telephone after his release from Thayet Prison, considered one of the country's harshest. "We were doing our job and the interview was conducted in a public area with permission. It was outrageous that we are charged with trespassing."
Zaw Pe had been imprisoned once before in connection with a story he did about a water shortage.