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Burma 26 January 2006

Junta ends year by censoring New Year’s greetings, keeping sick journalist in prison

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association (BMA) voiced outrage today that the military government ended 2005 by censoring two privately-owned weeklies and then went on to refuse conditional release for Than Win Hlaing, a journalist who is very ill after spending six years in terrible prison conditions.

“The Burmese press suffers from two major afflictions, prior censorship and the imprisonment of journalists,” the organisations said. “The military junta seems bent on perpetuating these direct and indirect attacks on the right to inform,” they added, calling for Than Win Hlaing’s release.

The military’s censorship bureau withdrew a number of New Year’s greetings from the 31 December issue of the Yangon Post Journal, a privately-owned weekly, banning the messages and photos of writers and journalists, including Maw Linn, Bo Bo and Zaw Thet Htwe.

The bureau also summoned the weekly’s editorial staff for questioning, and the editor responsible for the greetings section was reportedly fired after refusing to appear before the censors. Additional sanctions against the staff were also reportedly demanded by the authorities.

Also targeted by the bureau was the 25 December issue of Weekly Eleven Journal, which had a special feature about the 15 leading personalities of 2005. The bureau insisted on the removal of four names from the list: writer Ludu Daw Amar, journalist Ludu Sein Win, businessman U Tay Za and drag artist Maung Than Sein. The photo of writer Maung Su Sann was also censored but the text was allowed to remain. Weekly Eleven Journal was launched in October by the Eleven Media Group, which also publishes two sports weeklies, including the very popular First Eleven, and a magazine of international news.

A Burmese air force officer, Maj. Wunna, was recently fired for writing satirical articles in the weekly Yangon Time. He was discreetly ironic about the military government’s transfer of the capital to Pyinmana and a national convention it organised. According to the website, Maj. Wunna wrote two articles for one of the weekly’s issues in November under his pseudonym “Mar J” despite an initially unfavourable opinion from the censors. One was entitled, “The tiger who wanted to die near another forest.” The other was entitled, “The convention of angels.”

Than Win Hlaing’s wife recently told radio Democratic Voice of Burma that her husband was seriously ill. Detained since June 2000, he has diabetes and kidney problems. The prison authorities refuse to give him the treatment he needs and have blocked any early release. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners - Burma (AAPPB), he should have been freed under the law governing conditional release.

A former reporter with Mya Yeik Nyo Journal, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for a number of offences including mentioning the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in one of his books. Aged 47, he is currently in Tharrawady, north of Rangoon.

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