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No Space for Press Freedom in Burma's Elections

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Bangkok - Burma is at a critical political junction. While the military regime wants to maintain its power via sham elections, the people, who long for genuine change, are demanding freedoms of expression and association. But the junta is in no mood to allow civil rights.

Chairwoman of the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights at the Habibie Center, Dewi Fortuna Anwar, said Tuesday (19 Oct.) the Burma's military regime's recent restrictive decision would only justify international suspicions that the November 7 election in Myanmar "would not be fair, transparent and democratic", as reported by the Jakarta Post.

Ms. Dewi said that what ASEAN members, like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, could do was advise Burma to allow some observers to enter the country.

"If there are [observers and journalists] from, say, ASEAN allowed to monitor and cover the election in Burma, I believe it will open fellow ASEAN members' eyes more toward Burma," Dewi said.

The notice on 18 October (Monday) by the chairman of Burma's Union Election Commission (EC) that no media or photography will be permitted inside or around ballot stations on election day, will unavoidably bring about vote-rigging, several local journalists and Burmese politicians have assumed.

A former Major General Thein Soe was a military Judge Advocate General in Burma's armed forces. Later he became the Deputy Chief Justice and then was appointed as chairman of the UEC. On 18 Oct. Thein Soe made the UEC announcement at a press conference in Naypyidaw.

According to Rangoon-based journalists who attended the press conference, Thein Soe declined to respond questions honestly related to press freedom and measures.

Previously, Burma's junta has already declared it will not welcome foreign observers to monitor the upcoming elections, despite international concerns that the polls will lack legitimacy. "International watchdog groups do not need to come," the chairman of the country's UEC told visiting US envoy Kurt Campbell, according to the New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

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The UEC said that it will not provide visas for foreign journalists because there are local correspondents in the country who work for foreign news agencies. The election commission also repeated that it was "not necessary" for foreign observers to monitor the elections.

Vincent Brossel, Head of the Asia desk of Reporters Without Borders, says this latest restriction shows the Burmese military government has no intention of holding free and fair elections.

"One of the conditions for a democratic election is again refused by the government," Brossel said to VOA's Ron Corben who based in Bangkok. "They have all control on the Burmese media and now that the foreign journalists are denied to access [to] Burma during the election[s] that gives no chances to get transparency and accountability."

Some, like film director, writer and comic Zarganar and blogger Nay Phone Latt, received long-term sentences while sentences for print journalists ranged from two to seven years. Win Maw, a 47-year-old activist and rock musician, has been serving a 17-year sentence for his journalistic activities since November 2008.

A military-controlled township court in Burma has handed down a 20-year jail term to freelance reporter Hla Hla Win, a young female video journalist who worked with the Burma exile broadcaster "Democratic Voice of Burma" based in Norway, as the ruling junta continues its crackdown on the free press. She was arrested in September 2009 after taking a video interview at a Buddhist monastery in Pakokku, a town in Magwe Division, the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres and the Burma Media Association said in a joint statement. For that she was given an additional seven-year prison sentence.

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Recently, on October 13 this year, Editor Nyi Nyi Tun of the Kandarawaddy news journal was sentenced to 13 years in prison by an arbitrary court of Insein prison. Nyi Nyi Tun had been working as the editor of the Kandarawaddy news journal, published in the Kayah State since 2007. Following his arrest the journal was closed.

According to the Burma Media Association and Reporters Sans Frontieres, at least 12 journalists and dozens of media workers, including poets and writers, have been behind bars since the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis and the May 2008 constitutional referendum.


Burma was at the forefront of press freedom in Southeast Asia before the 1962 military coup. The country then enjoyed a free press; censorship was something unheard of. As many as three dozen newspapers, including English, Chinese and Hindi dailies, existed between 1948 and 1962.

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Zin Linn was born on February 9, 1946 in a small town in Mandalay Division. He began writing poems in 1960 and received a B.A (Philosophy) in 1976. He became an activist in the High School Union after the students' massacre on 7th July 1962. (more...)
 

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