Burma’s generals for mysterious reasons transferred the country’s capital to Pyinmana, an isolated city in the mountains near the centre of the country. But the junta renewed its attacks against the democratic movement, by keeping Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest and several thousand political prisoners, including renowned journalist Win Tin, in prison.
Seven journalists had sentences reduced during the wave of prison releases in January and July 2005. Among them was Sein Hla Oo, detained in harsh conditions for nearly 11 years. On the other hand, Win Tin whose name appeared on a list of those freed was not released by the authorities, apparently wary of the influence of this close adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, sentenced to 20 years in jail. The 75-year-old has not been allowed to read or write in his prison cell in Insein jail for the past 16 years.
Burma is also a paradise for censors. Scissors in hand, the agents of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division check every article, editorial, cartoon, advertisement and illustration ahead of publication. In 2005, they even began going through death notices placed in Burmese newspapers. They strike out all references to the United Nations, accused of wanting to overthrow the government. More seriously, the authorities censor all independent news on the bird flu epidemic. Diplomats in the region are concerned that there is a blackout of information on this H5N1 virus.
In Burma, a journalist can earn a seven year prison sentence simply for having an unauthorised fax, video camera, modem or a copy of a banned publication. It is also forbidden to watch Burma’s top independent channel DVB TV, which is broadcast from Norway by satellite.
International pressure on Burma has increased the paranoia of the military government that has ruled since 1988. On the occasion of the national day holiday at the end of November, Gen. Than Shwe urged his compatriots to be “extremely vigilant”, because the western powers were trying to dominate others through the media and human rights. The number of visas issued to foreign journalists was drastically cut back in 2005.