Reporters Without Borders, Info-Birmanie, Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and other human rights activists and members of the Burmese community participated in the demonstration outside the embassy in Paris, during which a letter was handed for Ambassador Kyaw Zwar Minn.
Concurrently, a number of campaigners came together in front of the Burmese embassy in Bangkok today to protest against the detention of 17 journalists in Burma. Some journalists have been given over 20 years prison terms for what campaigners regard as “no more than doing their jobs.”
Reporters Without Borders participated in the demonstrations that were staged outside Burma’s embassies in several capital cities today in response to a call from Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a radio and TV station run by Burmese exile journalists.
“Hla Hla Win is serving a 27-year jail sentence because she wanted to tell the world what was happening in Burma,” Reporters Without Borders said. “ There are many other Burmese journalists who, like her, have paid a high price for exercising their right to report the news.
“We want to show our support for DVB’s 17 detained video journalists and to urge the international community to reiterate its requests to the new Burmese government to release all detained netizens, dissidents and journalists, including DVB’s reporters, without delay.”
Around 20 journalists and bloggers have been arrested by the police or the army in Burma since the Saffron Revolution in 2007, Reporters Without Borders claimed.
The “Free Burma VJ” (Free Burma’s Video Journalists) campaign of DVB was launched son 3 May, World Press Freedom Day. Reporters Without Borders has strongly supported demonstrations held outside the Burmese embassies in Bangkok, Paris, Geneva and London, today.
According to a Reporters Without Borders’ press release, the protesters marched from the Palais Wilson, the headquarters of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to the Burmese Mission in Geneva, where they handed over a petition addressed to foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, who was also Burma’s former ambassador to the UN in Geneva and New York, calling for the immediate release of Hla Hla Win and all political prisoners.
The press release says that the Swiss section of Reporters Without Borders plans to continue staging regular demonstrations in Switzerland’s cities until Hla Hla Win is released.
If the junta is candid about democratic reforms, the media must be free at the outset. Free access to information is crucial to a healthy democracy. According to the Burma Media Association and Reporters Sans Frontieres, more than two dozens journalists and media workers, including poets and writers, are still in custody since the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis and the constitutional referendum in May 2008. Some have received long prison sentences, including the film director, writer and comic Zarganar and blogger, Nay Phone Latt.
Burma was at the forefront of press freedom in Southeast Asia before the 1962 military coup. There were around three dozen newspapers, including English, Chinese and Hindi dailies under a civilian government. Journalists were free to set up relations with international press agencies.
The situation changed in 1962 when the military seized power. The military regime set up a Press Scrutiny Board to enforce strict censorship on all forms of printed matter including advertisements and obituaries.
Looking at an article by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi which recounted her recent trip to the ancient city of Bagan was permitted to be published in a Burmese journal – The People’s Era – some people might think that press freedom has improved. But, the Messenger journal was recently disqualified from publishing its supplementary paper for a week by the PSRD since it published the full coverage of Aung San Suu Kyi’s photo.
On Wednesday, Information and Culture Minister Kyaw Hsan told the Lower House of Parliament that the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) is still necessary to censor publications. The country is not matured enough to enjoy press freedom. As a result, the PSRD scrutinizes improper writings against national security for the benefit of the country and its people, he added.
It is clear that the new government has no intention of allowing freedom of press in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
According to a few analysts, there has been no improvement regarding media freedom since the new president has come into office. There have been the usual restrictions on the media and on journalists and further restrictions on Internet users as the information minister is the same as the former junta.