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Burma 25 September 2007

One photographer killed and six journalists in jail
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association condemn the poor state of press freedom

At a demonstration close to the Burmese embassy in Paris on 27 September 2007, Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association launched an appeal to the UN Security Council to stop the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations within the country.

The actor Jane Birkin also joined the rally to condemn the brutal policies of the Burmese regime towards the democracy movement and the monks.

The worldwide press freedom organisation also called for effective sanctions against the military regime and the immediate release of a photographer and five journalists currently imprisoned in the country. U Win Tin , who was one of the political mentors of Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, is still serving a 20-year prison sentence.

As the military junta threatens to crack down on demonstrations by monks and opponents, six Burmese journalists are in jail in the country. Photo-journalist Win Saing was arrested on 28 August while taking photos of activists in the National League for Democracy (NLD) making offerings to monks in Rangoon. After being taken to the Kyaik-ka-san detention centre, he is currently being held at the police station in Thanlyin near Rangoon. He is in danger, as are hundreds of other people arrested in recent weeks, of being mal-treated.

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association call for his release, along with that of five other imprisoned journalists.

Burma’s best known editor, U Win Tin, age 77, has been imprisoned since July 1989 in a special cell of the notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon. Sentenced to 20 years in prison for anti-government propaganda, he was one of the organisers of the demonstrations in 1988. In 2007, he launched an appeal for resistance to the military regime which imprisoned him. “All political prisoners should be released and the democratic parliament recalled. We should not drop these demands”.

U Thaung Sein, photo-journalist, and Ko Moe Htun, leader writer on the religious magazine Dhamah-Yate, were sentenced in March 2006, to three years in prison for taking photos of the new capital Naypyidaw, a mysterious city rising out of the earth at the whim of the chief general of the military junta. At their trial, the judge did not even bother to call witnesses or to let the two journalists speak in their defence.

Monywa Aung-Shin was arrested in September 2000. Former editorial manager of the magazine Sar-maw-khung (the literary world) banned in 1990, he became during the 1990s one of the publicists of the LND. He was sentenced to seven years in prison under Article 17 (20) of emergency legislation. Ne Min, a former contributor to the BCC, was arrested for having sent news reports to foreign-based media.

The state of press freedom in Burma:

Since the start of the demonstrations on 19 August 2007, Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association have recorded 24 serious violations of press freedom, including arrests and assaults.

Since 1962, Burmese journalists working for the official and privately-owned press have been subjected to the surveillance of the Censorship Bureau which imposes draconian control on the content of news, but also on illustrations and TV programmes. There is not one single privately-owned TV or radio station in Burma but scores of magazines are published alongside government dailies.

In 2007, the security services, reorganised within the Military Security Force (Sa Ya Hpa), has stepped up surveillance of the press. Civilians have also reportedly been trained to identify international media "informers". Telephone tapping capacity was boosted during 2006, with the creation of two new eavesdropping centres in Mandalay, central Burma.

The junta does not jam international radios broadcasts in Burmese but they do harass and punish some of their participants. The film-maker and journalist Thura "Zar Ga Nar" was in May banned from all artistic activity after taking part in a broadcast on the Burmese service of the BBC. This decision was taken by Major Thein Htun Aung, director of the information ministry’s cinema department.

In the face of ever more overt hostility from the United States, the military regime has stepped up propaganda against "imperialists" and other "neo-colonialists". In February, information ministry officials told a group of Burmese journalists and local correspondents for the foreign press in Rangoon to respond to criticism carried by the foreign press.

Identical articles regularly appear in most of the country’s media attacking Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the United States and opposition figures. They are written by agents of the junta’s propaganda body, the Office of Strategic Studies.

There are now more than 100 privately-owned publications in the country, all of them subjected to advance censorship. Alongside traditionally forbidden subjects, such as democracy, the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi and the socio-economic crisis, national and international events routinely go unreported. This was the case in 2006, when Asian and UN diplomats visited the country in a bid to soften the junta’s stance. Anti-government demonstrations in the Philippines and Thailand were never covered in the press. The magazine Padauk Pwint Thit was forced to withdraw an issue in December after the Censorship Bureau rejected seven of its articles. Even within the prisons, a censorship committee ensures that any "subversive" reading matter is removed. In March, the wife of the jailed journalist and writer, Than Win Hlaing revealed that her husband was denied all reading matter because of his "defect" of taking notes of what he read.

Also in June 2006, Aung Than, a member of the National League for Democracy (NLD), and Zeya Aung, a student at Pegu University, were sentenced to 19 years in prison for having written and distributed a collection of poems "Daung Man" ("The power of the fighter peacock", in reference to the NLD).

The Burmese government’s Internet policies are even more repressive than those of its Chinese and Vietnamese neighbours. The military junta clearly filters opposition websites. It keeps a very close eye on Internet cafes, in which the computers automatically execute screen captures every five minutes, in order to monitor user activity. The authorities targeted Internet telephony and chat services in June, blocking Google’s Gtalk, for example. The aim was two-fold: to defend the profitable long-distance telecommunications market, which is controlled by state companies, as well as to stop cyber-dissidents from using a means of communication that is hard to monitor.

Since, the start of the demonstrations, several foreign journalists have managed to work in Burma using tourist visas. In fact, the military junta does award a very small number of press visas. Scores of journalists and human rights activists are blacklisted and prevented from entering the country. Last July, not one foreign journalist obtained a visa and Burmese reporters had very limited access to the inaugural session of the National Convention. Burmese journalists working for foreign media are extremely closely watched. In May 2007, two reporters working for the Bangkok bureau of the Nippon News Network, were arrested by police officers near Rangoon. On 18 September, Myat Thura, correspondent for the news agency Kyodo, was arrested in the capital.




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