Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association are outraged by a wave of arrests of Burmese journalists, some just for helping the victims of Cyclone Nargis, and call for their release. They also call for press visas to be issued to foreign journalists.
“The international community, including the United Nations, has succeeded in persuading the military government to open the country to humanitarian aid,” the two organisations said. “It is now essential to get the junta to stop preventing civil society, including the press, from participating in the relief effort.”
They added: “By preventing journalists from working, the junta is trying to make people forget its disastrous management of the crisis. It has partially succeeded, as international public opinion has lost interest in the fate of the hundreds of thousands of Burmese who were hit by the cyclone because of the lack of TV footage and news reports.”
Myanmar Tribune editor Aung Kyaw San has been arrested and his magazine closed because of his humanitarian work in cyclone-hit areas. He was arrested on 15 June along with sixteen other people for burying the bodies of victims near Bogale. According to friends, this team of volunteers buried more than 400 bodies in accordance with Red Cross procedures.
They were arrested while returning to Rangoon to pick up new sacks for burying victims. Five of them, including Aung Kyaw San, are still being held in Insein prison. Journalist Zaw Thet Htwe and a blogger known as Zarganar are also being held for helping Cyclone Nargis victims. Zarganar was arrested after giving an interview to a BBC reporter (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-txhu7N8A58).
Ma Ein Khine Oo, a 23-year-old journalist working for Ecovision Journal, was arrested on 10 June while covering a demonstration by cyclone victims outside the UNDP compound in Rangoon. She is still being held at the Tamwe police station pending trial. She was charged today under article 505 (b), which makes "comments that mislead the public" punishable by imprisonment.
At least 10 journalists and a blogger are currently detained in Burma - three of them for providing assistance to cyclone victims.
South Korean journalist Lee Yu Kyong was deported on 22 June after going to the headquarters of the National League for Democracy, the opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Lee told the Burmese exile Mizzima News that police officers came to her hotel and told her she had to leave the country at once. The police confiscated CDs containing photos of cyclone-hit areas. Officials at the airport stamped “Deported” in her passport.
Around 10 foreign journalists have been banned from entering Burma or deported since Cyclone Nargis hit the country at the start of May. The authorities are still refusing to grant press visas and military checkpoints have been installed on several roads into the delta region, the worst-hit area. Burmese have been questioned or arrested for helping foreign journalists to travel to cyclone-hit areas.