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India 18 April 2002

RSF questions the true reasons for the arrest of a Burmese journalist

On 17 April, Soe Myint was released under bail by a Barasat court (north of Calcutta).

image 100 x 135 (JPEG) In a letter sent to the Indian Minister of External Affairs, Jaswant Singh, Reporters sans frontières (Reporters Without Borders - RSF) asked for the real reasons for the arrest of Burmese journalist Soe Myint, managing editor of the Mizzima press agency. "We are justified in asking whether the arrest of this journalist, reputed for his reporting on human rights violations in Burma, has a direct relation with the diplomatic rapprochement between New Delhi and Rangoon. The fact that this arrest occurred twelve years after his crime, but just one week after your visit to Burma, leads us to ask for detailed explanations on this arrest," said Robert Ménard, RSF’s General Secretary. RSF asked the minister to guarantee the safety of Burmese journalists exiled in India and their right to inform. RSF also reminded that there is no press freedom in Burma, and that at least 17 journalists are in Burmese jails for peacefully defending democracy.

According to information obtained by RSF, Soe Myint, managing editor of the Mizzima press agency and vice secretary of the Burma Media Association (BMA, an affiliate of the RSF Network), was arrested at his home in New Delhi on 10 April 2002. He was transferred to Calcutta where he was held for five days. This detention was renewed on 15 April. Authorities say that he must face charges of hijacking a Thai Airways plane, flying from Calcutta to Rangoon, on 19 November 1990. This unarmed hijacking was done to attract international public opinion to human rights violations perpetrated by the Burmese junta. After spending three months in a Calcutta jail (West Bengal), Soe Myint was released. In exchange, he was supposed to check in regularly with judicial authorities in Calcutta. In 1993, he obtained refugee status from the High Commissioner for Refugees. In 1995, the General Secretary of the province of West Bengal sent a letter to the Indian government asking that the charges be dropped, since the hijacking was committed without violence. He never received a response.

In 1998 Soe Myint, now 35 years old, founded Mizzima, a press agency focusing on Burma, which was very critical to the military government. Many international media use news provided by this agency, especially radio stations broadcasting in Burmese. According to Burmese and Indian sources, the Rangoon junta may have pressured the Indian government to arrest this dissident. Soe Myint’s lawyer, Nandita Haksar, told RSF that her client had been questioned about his activities as a journalist, especially by two men in the CID offices who refused to identify themselves.

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