Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association have condemned the arrests of dozens of dissidents for their involvement in distributing newspapers that have been banned by the junta. Some of them have been held in undisclosed locations for more than ten days.
"Although 18 political prisoners were released in September, this new crackdown is evidence of the military regime’s hostility towards the pluralism of information. It is intolerable that dozens of Burmese people should be imprisoned simply for having read or distributed a newspaper," state Robert Ménard, Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders, and U Thaung, President of the Burma Media Association, in a joint letter addressed to Burma’s Home Affairs Minister, Colonel Tin Hlaing.
The two organisations call for the release of all those imprisoned for possession of opposition publications. "The ending of censorship and of restrictions on opposition publications would be an unprecedented gesture of openness in Burma," emphasise Mr Ménard and Mr U Thaung.
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association have also asked the Home Affairs Minister to do all he can to persuade the government to allow the National League for Democracy (NLD) to launch a newspaper. The military junta has never responded to the request made in May 2002 by Aung San Suu Kyi, General Secretary of the NLD, for a licence to publish.
On 25 September 2002, about thirty activists, mostly former political prisoners, were arrested and interrogated by intelligence services for possessing opposition publications, notably the newspaper Khit Pyaing (New Era, published in Thailand). According to Irrawaddy magazine (based in Thailand) this is an intimidation strategy by the military intelligence service (MIS) aimed at preventing opponents from gaining access to banned publications. To date, more than a dozen people are still being held in undisclosed locations.
According to Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association, almost forty people have been arrested over the last two years for having distributed or read an opposition newspaper printed in Thailand. Some of them have been tortured or given heavy prison sentences for this offence alone.
In July 2002, Aung Thein and Kyaw Naing Oo, two members of the youth section of the National League for Democracy (NLD), were arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for possessing copies of Khit Pyaing. They were apparently badly beaten up when they were arrested.
On 12 February 2002, Ko Tin Saw, alias Tharkhan, was arrested at Bayintnaung market in Kawthaung (in the east of the country) on his way back from Ranong (Thailand). In possession of a mobile phone and the February issue of Khit Pyaing, he was accused of sending information to radio stations abroad. The same day, Ko Tin Saw was taken to the intelligence service’s n°3 Base in Kawthaung, where he was tortured under interrogation.
In 1999 and 2000, seven members of the underground network that distributed the banned journal Mojo, a publication linked to the NLD, were arrested. The seven are Mg Hla Soe, Ko Win Naing, Mg Kyaw Wae Soe, Joseph, Tint Wae, Ko Myo and Ma Htay Htay. Most of them have been sentenced to seven years in prison for distributing this monthly opposition publication, printed in Thailand, which has now ceased to appear. Three thousand copies used to be sent to Burma on a regular basis.