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Burma 28 May 2009

Junta allows only one-sided coverage of Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial

Reporters Without Borders urges the Burmese military authorities to lift all restrictions on press coverage of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial. Some Burmese journalists have intermittently been allowed to attend the trial, which is taking place inside Insein prison, but no foreign reporter has been allowed in and the Burmese media are not able to cover it freely.

“The military government’s gestures of openness towards the media are inconsistent,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Burmese journalists are or are not allowed into the trial at the military’s whim while foreign journalists are carefully kept away. Even with this limited access, the Burmese public is not being properly informed as the military’s prior censorship prevents any independent coverage. The lack of transparency makes a fair verdict even more unlikely.”

The two national TV stations have shown only one video sequence of Aung San Suu Kyi since the start of the trial but they have reported that it is taking place. State-owned MRTV reported yesterday that the opposition leader’s trial was respecting “the authority of the law.”

Burma’s privately-owned publications have been asked to use the reports published in the government dailies. They were sent an information ministry note warning them that not distortion of the official version would be tolerated. They have not been allowed to print photos of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Many policemen are stationed outside the prison and several citizen journalists have been warned not to taking photos or film of Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters. A demonstrator was arrested outside the court today.

Around 20 Burmese journalists were allowed into the courtroom inside the prison on 26 May and again today. Ten of the journalists worked for Burmese media and around 10 worked for international media. The privately-owned media that were allowed to have a reporter in the courtroom were 7 Days News, The Voice Weekly, Modern Journal, News Watch, Myanmar Newsweek, Yangon Media Group, Snap Shot Journal, Popular Journal, Eleven Media Group and Myanmar Times.

Ten journalists were previously allowed to attend the trial on 20 May - four working for international news agencies, one working for the Myanmar Times and five working for other local publications. But the censorship office has not allowed any Burmese publication to cover the trial freely.

For independent coverage, Burmese have to tune to international radio stations broadcasting in Burmese or the two satellite TV stations with Burmese language programming, DVB TV and VOA TV. The government press recently condemned the influence of these TV stations, suggesting that the authorities could crack down harder on satellite dish owners.

Aged 63, Aung San Suu Kyi is facing a possible five-year prison sentence on a charge of violating the terms of her house arrest by allowing an American intruder into her closely-watched home to spend the night. Yesterday, the court refused to allow three defence witnesses, including former journalist U Win Tin, to testify. Today the judges adjourned the trial until 1 June after hearing just one witness.

In this country
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Journalists trying to cover fate of Tamils are threatened, obstructed
15 May - Burma
Growing restrictions on free flow of information
15 May - Burma
Sakharov Network calls for immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi, Sakharov Prize laureate 1990
29 January - Burma
Petition launched for release of two Burmese bloggers serving sentences of 20 and 59 years in prison
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in the annual report
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