Burmese junta comes down heavily on media before elections

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TUESDAY, 02 FEBRUARY 2010

Kachin News – That the Burmese military junta intends to continue to keep the media on the leash during the forthcoming general elections has become apparent with long sentences handed out to journalists, human rights and media groups said.

The elections are the fifth of the seven-step road map to so called democracy by the regime.

The junta’s treatment of journalists was in evidence with another reporter of the Norway based opposition Burmese news agency Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) Ngwe Soe Lin, who was working inside Burma, being sentenced to 13 years in prison on January 27. “It is totally unacceptable,” said media and human rights activists.

Vincent Brossel, in-charge of the Asia Desk of Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders-RWB) in Paris, France told Kachin News Group “It’s very clear there is an intention to intimidate reporters working inside the country. And of course this is one of the big challenges before the election”.

“Burmese generals are wanting to conduct the polls with full control, especially over the media so as not to allow a repetition of the mistake of the Saffron Revolution in September 2007,” he added.

During the Buddhist-monk led protests, a senior Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai was shot dead by Burmese riot soldiers. The death was reported widely outside Burma with the help of inside reporters and bloggers via the internet.

Ngwe Soe Lin (28), also known as Tun Kyaw, was charged under the junta’s Electronic and Immigration Act and sentenced by the special closed court in Insein prison precincts in Rangoon.

Ngwe Soe Lin who was honoured with the Rory Peck award from London for his video documentary on orphan victims of Cyclone Nargis, which lashed southern Burma in May, 2008 and killed about 140,000 people.

Hla Hla Win, a second DVB reporter was sentenced to 27 years in prison on December 30 last year by the junta. She is the first woman reporter to be given the longest sentence in Burma.

“The junta wants to scare all the people reporting from the street inside the country. There are very small spaces and rooms for free reporting by DVB or the media in exile,” added Brossel.

“It’s very harsh and it is more than a shock. People are just doing their normal jobs. The junta should be condemned,” added the Director of the Asia desk of RWB.

Aye Chan Naing, the Executive Director and Chief Editor of DVB in Norway said, “It is an injustice on the reporter”. Behind the harsh action, the junta wants to threaten all people who are linked with the media and are reporting news inside the country.

“They (junta) want to threaten and warn journalists to dissuade them from doing their job during the election,” said Aye Chan Naing. “The sentence shows they don’t want to give freedom to the media in the coming elections.”

He said that they have heard from the lawyer of the victim that he was sentenced because he supplied news to the DVB and it is one more harsh step by the regime to control the media before the election.

“The sentence is unacceptable. He (Ngwe Soe Lin) has not done any wrong. He was just doing his job as a journalist,” said Aye Chan Naing.

He said such an action cannot stop them and their reporters inside the country. They will continue reporting news in pursuit of truth.

Aung Myo Min the Director of Human Rights Education and Institute of Burma (HREIB) in Thailand said, the imprisonment of the reporter means ignoring the freedom of the media, casting increasing doubts whether the elections will be free and fair, which the junta has promised.

“I would like to tell the international community, who believe and hope the coming election might be free and fair and lead to democracy in Burma that it will not happen if they continue with such action,” added Aung Myo Min.

The long prison terms are not surprising because the military junta has done this many times in the past and systematically abused human rights.

“They will try to prevent flow of news of the election to the world. We would urge the regime to stop human rights abuses instead of talking about free and fair elections,” said Aung Myo Min.

According to Reporters Without Borders, in Burma there are still at least 12 journalists and two cyber dissidents who are imprisoned.

Brossel said China, Iran and Cuba have the same kind of punishment for reporters, “sometime more than Burma, where people are sentenced to 45 years in prison”.

The local Burmese media are struggling with heavy censorship and tight restrictions imposed by the junta’s Information Ministry.

“Everything is the same and there is no change,” said a local journalist who wished anonymity.

Another journalist working with a local monthly magazine said, sometimes the article or news story becomes insipid after words and sentences have been deleted by the censor board of the regime.

“After censorship sometimes the article becomes meaningless. It is like eating without salt,” said the journalist, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals by the junta.

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