Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 August 2014, 14:37 GMT

Military moves to seal off country for 7 November election

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 29 October 2010
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, Military moves to seal off country for 7 November election, 29 October 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ccfd48119.html [accessed 20 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

With less than 10 days to go to the 7 November national elections, the military authorities are continuing to step up their pressure on the Burmese and foreign news media. As censorship is tightened, new jail sentences are being passed on Burmese journalists and foreign reporters are being banned from covering the elections.

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association fear the military junta will seal off the country for the elections, as the current slowdown in Internet connections already suggests. This would leave the junta's hands free to crack down if the results give rise to protests.

We welcome the fact that many countries have made it clear they think these elections lack democratic credibility. The silence of several ASEAN countries and ASEAN's secretary-general, on the other hand, is outrageous. One would have expected a bit more concern about free speech and the work of the press from ASEAN. It should follow the lead of Indonesia and the Philippines, whose governments have said the elections are not democratic.

Given the current situation, Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association urge ASEAN and Burma's neighbours to reject the outcome of the elections insofar as the government does not guarantee press freedom. The two organizations also call on ASEAN to show some courage and to pressure the junta leader, Gen. Than Shwe, to allow a sizeable international media presence for the elections.

The latest journalist to be convicted is Nyi Nyi Tun, the editor of Kantarawaddy News Journal, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison on 14 October by a court martial held inside Insein prison. The two press freedom organizations call for his immediate release and the release of all the political prisoners so that they can participate in the 7 November elections if they so desire.

Arrested on 13 October 2009, Nyi Nyi Tun was initially accused of participating in "terrorist acts" in Rangoon. That charge was dropped and he was instead accused of "crimes against the state." In the end, he was convicted of being in contact with exile news media (a violation of article 17/1 of the law on illegal association), crossing the border illegally (article 13/1 of the immigration law), trying to disseminate false information with the aim of disrupting public order (article 505/b of the criminal code) and using electronic media without permission (article 6/1 of the telegraphic communications law).

According to his family, Nyi Nyi Tun was tortured during interrogation. Based in the eastern border state of Kayah, which is mainly inhabited by members of the Karenni ethnic group, Kantarawaddy News Journal was closed after his arrest. According to several Burmese journalists, the authorities were glad to be rid of this influential privately-owned magazine.

There were parallels between Nyi Nyi Tun's case and that of Oakkan Tha, a Buddhist monk who was convicted of "anti-electoral activities" at the end of September for sending information to the Mon News Agency, which is based in Thailand. Aged around 30, Oakkan Tha was arrested last January.

The two organizations have also been told that Internet connection have slowed right down. "I can no longer connect to my Gmail account using proxies," a Rangoon-based journalist said. "Accessing all the websites based abroad has becoming terribly slow." The exile magazine Irrawaddy reported that Internet cafés in Rangoon had closed in advance of the elections."

The slowdown follows hacker attacks on the websites of several Burmese exile media including Irrawaddy and DVB. More information: http://en.rsf.org/burma-nouvel-arti...

Foreign journalists will not be able to verify all of this information because the Election Commission has decided to grant no press visas. Announced on 18 October, this decision reinforces the impression that the military government intends to isolate the country for the election.

The commission's chairman, Thein Soe, said Burma did not need any foreign journalists or observers because it already had a lot of experience in holding elections. Twenty-five Burmese journalists who work for foreign media and two Chinese correspondents will be the only foreign media reporters allowed to cover the elections.

Several European journalists told Reporters Without Borders their requests for tourist visas were rejected by the Burmese authorities. "The Burmese diplomats have clearly learned to use Google and are rejecting applications by people who are identifiable as journalists," a French reporter said.

Foreign journalists have for decades been finding it extremely difficult to obtain press visas for Burma and have been forced to travel under tourist visas. This can endanger the Burmese who work for them as fixers or give them interview. The blogger Zarganar, for example, was jailed after talking to the BBC in 2008. More information: http://en.rsf.org/petition-nay-phon...

The Election Commission also announced on 18 October that the media would not be allowed into voting stations. The commission, which is not independent, and the Press Scrutiny Board, which is run by a military officer, closely examine all articles about the election and the statements of the 37 registered political parties.

Favorite News, a privately-owned magazine, was recently suspended for two weeks for publishing a cartoon that referred ironically to the elections.

The official media have resumed their attacks on international radio stations such as BBC, DVB, RFA and VOA that broadcast Burmese-language programmes. A New Light of Myanmar headline on 1 October said: "VOA, BBC sowing hatred among people" RFA, DVB generating public outrage. Do not allow ourselves to be swayed by killer broadcasts designed to cause troubles".

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