MAY 7, 2004
Posted: June 30, 2004
Ne Min, freelance
IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION
Ne Min, a lawyer and former stringer for the BBC, was sentenced to a 15-year prison term by a special court in the infamous Insein Prison in the capital, Rangoon, along with four other former political prisoners who also received lengthy prison sentences, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPPB), a prisoner assistance group based in Thailand.
Military intelligence officers arrested the five men in February for allegedly passing information to unlawful organizations outside of Burma, according to the AAPPB. The four others are Maung Maung Latt, Paw Lwin, Ye Thiha, and Yan Naing.
In 1989, Ne Min, who is also known by the alias Win Shwe, was charged with "spreading false news and rumors to the BBC to fan further disturbances in the country," and the "possession of documents including anti-government literature, which he planned to send to the BBC," according to official Rangoon radio. He was sentenced to 14 years of hard labor by a military tribunal near Insein Prison and served nine years.
Exiled Burmese journalists say that it is likely that Ne Min, who is thought to be in his mid-50's, continued to provide news and information to exiled and international news sources after his release from prison in 1998. The media in Burma are strictly controlled and censored, and most Burmese get their news from international radio.
The convictions came just 10 days before the opening of the National Convention, called by Burma's ruling junta to frame a new constitution as part of a so-called seven-step plan to democracy. The National League for Democracy, the main opposition political party, boycotted the convention, and visas to cover the event were not issued to foreign reporters. Local journalists say that the harsh convictions were meant as a warning and were part of an overall increase in intimidation and pressure on the press in Burma.
JULY 27, 2004
Posted: September 27, 2004
Lazing La Htoi, freelance
Burmese documentary filmmaker La Htoi, detained in Myitkyina, the capital of the northern Kachin State, for filming and distributing footage of extreme flooding that hit the region in late July.
La Htoi shot footage of the record floods with his personal video camera and then made 300 copies of the scenes on video compact disc for distribution, according to The Irrawaddy, a newspaper run by exiled Burmese journalists in Thailand. Local authorities arrested him on July 27 while he was copying the footage, and he remains in the custody of military intelligence, according to CPJ sources.
The Cyber Computer Center, where the copies of the video were made, was closed and ordered to recall all 300 copies of the footage before they could be distributed overseas, according to The Irrawaddy.
La Htoi, 47, runs a private printing house and has produced video documentaries for the Metta Foundation, a U.S.-based organization founded on Buddhist principles that is one of the few nongovernmental agencies permitted to assist in rural development in Burma. For the last 10 years, according to CPJ sources and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, a regional journalists' group. Private video production companies are not allowed in Burma, which severely restricts press freedom and the distribution of information both inside and outside the country. However, foundations and other nongovernmental agencies are permitted to produce videos for educational purposes.
Burma's official newspaper Kyemon did not report any extensive damage resulting from the recent floods, according to The Irrawaddy, but La Htoi's video included footage of a dead body and an interview with a local resident citing as many as 50 casualties resulting from the flooding, according to CPJ sources.
Nine other journalists are currently behind bars in Burma, including documentary filmmakers Aung Pwint and Thaung Tun, who were arrested in October 1998 after working on a documentary about forced labor in Burma's rural areas.
SEPTEMBER 1, 2004
Posted: September 22, 2004
The bimonthly current affairs journal Khit-Sann closed after its official publisher decided to stop publication "due to some financial problems," according to Agence France-Presse. Under Burma's restrictive licensing laws, private publishers are obliged to lease licenses from government agencies. Khit-Sann's editor, Kyaw Win, published under a license accessed through the Department of Parliamentary Affairs in Rangoon, sources tell CPJ.
Supporters of the journal charge that the government shuttered Khit-Sann because it covered international issues and U.S. political ideas, according to CPJ sources and Radio Free Asia. Burma's government denied the charges, citing the financial and licensing issues instead.
An unnamed Burmese media source interviewed by Radio Free Asia blamed military censors for the journal's demise. "Military intelligence decided they should stop publishing," he said to RFA. Another journalist affiliated with the journal told the Burma Media Alliance (BMA), a group of exiled journalists, that the head of the Press Scrutiny Board ordered the closure of Khit-Sann beginning September 1 without any explanation. The same journalist told the BMA that editor Kyaw Win was reprimanded by censors last month because Khit-Sann's editorial line was allegedly "pro-American."
Khit-Sann is a privately owned journal that began publishing in August 2003, featuring critical analysis of international affairs, economics, and ideas from political theorists including the U.S. writer Samuel Huntington, sources tell CPJ. Khit-Sann is translated as meaning either "Renaissance" or "New Age."
OCTOBER 22, 2004
Updated: October 29, 2004
Myanmar News Gazette
And several other publications
More than a dozen Burmese publications were closed after the Oct. 19 ouster of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt. Military authorities banned or suspended publications associated with Military Intelligence Services (MIS), which was previously run by Gen. Nyunt, according to CPJ sources and reports in the exiled Burmese media.
The banned publications, sources said, include popular news-oriented magazines and newspapers such as First Eleven, a news magazine; 7 Days, a weekly newspaper; and Myanmar News Gazette, another weekly newspaper. Living Color, a private magazine whose license was issued by Nyunt's son, was also shut down, and the weekly newspaper Myanmar Times was not distributed this week.
The official censorship body, the Press Scrutiny Board (PSB), is also being restructured, according to the Burma Media Alliance, a group of exiled Burmese journalists. The PSB is run by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and is monitored by Military Intelligence.
CPJ is investigating the reasons behind these developments, which appear to be connected with the downfall of the moderate Nyunt. All publications and organizations related to him and Military Intelligence are now apparently at risk of closure or restructuring.
Burma's authoritarian military regime runs the country with an array of security services including Military Intelligence. Overseeing news publications and licensing has been a way for the MIS to control the flow of information, while trying to improve the junta's image and, in some cases, make a profit.
Sources tell CPJ that Burma's new prime minister, Lt. Gen. Soe Win, appears to be consolidating power by taking control of news and information media inside the country. The banned and suspended publications are potentially lucrative as well.
Nyunt, appointed prime minister in August 2003, made several moves toward democratization and openness while in office. He proposed the so-called "road map to democracy," and took some steps toward freeing Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy party who has been under house arrest since May 2003.