Reporters Without Borders noted Burma’s decision to pass up the rotating presidency of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and urged member countries to keep up constant pressure on Rangoon to free prisoners of opinion and restore free expression.
Burma has given up the role of president for 2006 to the Philippines.
In an official statement, ASEAN said that Burma had to focus on working out its constitution and on the democratisation process.
ASEAN must prevent Myanmar (Burma) from taking over the rotating presidency
Open letter to the Secretary-General of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)
His Excellency Ong Keng Yong
Association of South-East Asian Nations
Jakarta - Indonesia
Paris, 22 July 2005
Dear Mr. Secretary-General,
Reporters Without Borders, an international organisation that defends press freedom throughout the world, would like to draw your attention to recent reports about the drastic curbs on free expression in Myanmar (Burma).
On the eve of a summit of ASEAN foreign ministers in Vientiane, our organisation would like to remind you that the Burmese junta is still holding six journalists in wretched prison cells including leading prisoner of conscience U Win Tin, 75, who recently began his 17th year in prison. For daring to express his peaceful opposition to the government, he has been denied many basic rights during his years in detention, including the right to a fair trial and to reasonable prison conditions.
The Burmese government shamelessly abuses the judicial system in order to undermine the public’s right of access to news and information. On 3 July, for example, the authorities arrested five people for listening to Voice of America and BBC World Service radio programmes.
The most recent mass release of political prisoners - more than 300 in all - must not be allowed to obscure the reality of repression against government opponents. At least 12 pro-democracy activists have been arrested during the past two weeks. The 12 July arrest of cartoonist Chit Swe, who is also vice-president of the Thanlyin branch of the National League for Democracy (NLD), is a serious violation of free expression.
Myanmar is also one of the few countries in the world where the press is still subject to prior censorship.
In view of the above, we call on you, Mr. Secretary-General, to use your influence with the governments of the ASEAN member countries at the coming meeting in Laos to prevent Myanmar from taking over the association’s rotating presidency, which is supposed to take place in July 2006.
As you must be aware, ASEAN’s founding declaration in 1967 states that member countries must respect "justice and the rule of law." It is your duty to insist that the governments of the member countries adhere to their commitments.
Reporters Without Borders would also like to remind you that, in a declaration adopted in January 2000, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression clearly stated that "the imposition of a prison sentence for the peaceful expression of opinion constitutes a serious violation of human rights."
A Burmese presidency cannot be reasonably envisaged if you hope to maintain your organisation’s credibility and legitimacy within the international community.
We therefore believe it falls to the ASEAN member countries’ foreign ministers to firmly and openly state their position on the Burmese junta’s repressive policies and drastic curbs on freedom. Rejection of a Burmese presidency should be the result of a decision by your organisation’s members.