Rights Group Finds Press Freedom in Burma Still Restricted

Posted September 20th, 2011 at 12:25 am (UTC-5)
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A new report says press censorship in Burma remains “arbitrary, intensive, and highly restrictive,” despite the new government's promise of reform.

The study released Monday by the Committee to Protect Journalists says there has been a surge of privately owned and operated publications in recent years, but they are heavily censored and often forced to publish state-prepared news and commentaries that present the government and its policies “in a glowing light.”

The report says two journalists have been sentenced to long prison terms and more than a dozen publications have been suspended for their news reporting. Journalists with private media groups say they were barred from entering and reporting from the new national parliament when it officially convened in March.

A Burmese court recently added 10 years to the prison sentence of 21-year-old Sithu Zeya, who was arrested after taking pictures at the scene of a bomb attack last year. He was already serving an eight-year term after prosecutors said he admitted to associating with an exiled media group, the Democratic Voice of Burma, and receiving media training in Thailand.

The CPJ report says authorities have also forced some 500 Internet cafes to install closed-circuit cameras and other surveillance technology to monitor and store users' online activities. The cafes are typically used by undercover exile reporters to file their news, pictures and videos to outside media.

The press watchdog says it based its report on interviews with journalists based in Burma and working for exile media.

CPJ is urging that Burma's bid to assume the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations be rejected. It also supports the creation of a United Nations-led commission of inquiry into war crimes, including the detention and torture of journalists.

The new government, which took office at the end of March, has slightly loosened its grip on the media. It has lifted a longstanding ban on several prominent news Web sites, including the Voice of America, Reuters news agency and the British Broadcasting Corporation, as well as the Democratic Voice of Burma and the Web sites of several major regional news organizations.

A reporter for VOA's Burmese service entered the country to conduct an interview last week with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, after being granted the first journalist visa for the service in 16 years.

And a Rangoon-based political journal, New Era, translated and published an uncensored essay authored by Aung San Suu Kyi that first appeared in a Japanese newspaper in July.