Political arrests and repression have dramatically increased in Burma, as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) maintains its tight rein on the flow of information, insuring that the Burmese media remain among the most repressed in Asia.The state, which controls virtually all Burmese media, added to its already comprehensive body of laws restricting the free flow of information. On June 7, SLORC introduced Law No. 5/96, making it an offense to instigate, protest, say, write or distribute anything that would "disrupt and deteriorate the stability of the state, communal peace and tranquillity, and the prevalence of law and order." Persons convicted under the new law face prison terms of up to 20 years. The regime also made owning, using, importing or borrowing a modem or fax a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

SLORC barred access to the residence of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) in late September and conducted mass arrests of NLD members and supporters. The blockade prohibited her weekly rallies, and also prevented foreign journalists from meeting with her. In addition, SLORC repeatedly cut off Suu Kyi's telephone lines to prevent interviews with the foreign media. Meanwhile, the government continued to jam Burmese language broadcasts by the BBC World Service and Voice of America, effectively denying its citizens any independent, reliable information on developments in their country. (The jamming of both radio services began in August 1995, after the BBC broadcast an interview with Suu Kyi.)

Student protests, which had been ongoing since October, peaked in early December, when police and military authorities beat and detained two journalists for a Japanese daily who were covering the story. After receiving a beating from police,Yomiuri Shimbun news assistant Myo Thant spent more than four hours in military detention on Dec 3. Upon his release, he spent five days in the hospital. On Dec. 6, police and soldiers beat Shigefumi Takasuka, a Bangkok-based reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun, and detained him for questioning. Despite Takasuka's repeated identification of himself as a journalist, police and soldiers struck him repeatedly on the head and body, causing serious bruising.

December 3
Myo Thant, Yomiuri Shimbun, ATTACKED, HARASSED

Police beat Thant, a news assistant for the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun, while he was covering student demonstrations in Rangoon. Thant had passed through a blockade after receiving permission to do so, but police clubbed him repeatedly anyway, on the head and back. The beating continued after Thant identified himself as a journalist and showed his press card. Military authorities then took Thant to Yangon military district headquarters, where he was held for four hours. He had to be hospitalized for five days after his release.

December 7
Shigefumi Takasuka, Yomiuri Shimbun, ATTACKED, HARASSED

Takasuka, a Bangkok-based reporter for the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun, was beaten by police and soldiers and detained for questioning during student protests in Rangoon. Authorities arrested more than 250 people during the demonstrations. Despite Takasuka's repeated assertions that he was a journalist, police and soldiers wielding clubs struck him about 10 times on the head and body, causing serious bruising. Officers of the military intelligence department questioned Takasuka for two-and-a-half hours.

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