News / Asia

CPJ: Press Freedom in Burma Still Restricted

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."

A separate journalism group, Reporters Without Borders, confirmed Tuesday that Burma has unblocked access to a number of international news websites, including the Voice of America and the Democratic Voice of Burma.

But the CPJ report noted that 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 Sithu Zeya, 21, 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.

Reporters Without Borders also noted the contradiction between placing new restrictions on Internet cafes and unblocking the websites, which include the BBC, Reuters, Radio Free Asia and the Burmese exile newspaper the Irrawaddy.

The group says now that Democratic Voice of Burma and the Irrawaddy are available in Burma, the government should release imprisoned reporters from the organizations, inlcuding Sithu Zeya.

CPJ is urging that Burma's bid to assume the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) 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.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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