Burma still among worst states for press freedom, report says

Source: Mizzima

Burma is still included on the list of the 10 worst countries for violating media freedom and the military regime tightened such restrictions last year, a report from US democracy and rights watchdog Freedom House said.

Washington-based Freedom House said in its report, “Freedom of the Press 2010”, that the Burmese junta was continuing to monitor Internet cafes and that at least 17 journalists were arrested and imprisoned by the end of last year.

The report was based on surveys on the condition of worldwide press freedoms during last year and maintains Burma in its 10 worst-rated countries along with Belarus, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. In these states, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture and other forms of repression, it says.

The report categorised countries as “Free”, “Partly Free” and “Not Free”. Burma, China, Tibet, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are listed as “Not Free” and Thailand is rated “Partly Free”.

In Burma, daily papers and broadcasters are wholly owned or controlled by the military regime. Private periodicals are allowed to be published but the censorship board is governed by military officers.

The works of cartoonist “Aw Pi Kye”, who depicts the topsy-turvy situation of Burmese society, are banned by the military regime. Blogger Nay Phone Latt, who spread the majority of updated news during the 2007 September “Saffron Revolution” to the outside world, is serving a 12-year prison sentence.

Cartoonist Han Lay, a winner of this year’s Hellman/Hammett prize awarded by New York-based Human Rights Watch, said there was “no freedom at all” on all fronts in Burma. The prize is given to writers who have been victims of persecution. Prominent writers and journalists from all over the world have been recipients since it was created in 1989.

“After 1988, the situation is worse than before. All the people are trapped with no outlet. They don’t know what freedom is. All of their potential and calibre has been eliminated”, Han Lay told Mizzima.

The cartoonist attended Rangoon Painting Sculpture and Arts School from 1982 to 1984. After the 1988 uprising he fled to the border. He is now serving the Thailand-based Irrawaddy magazine and his works are held in high regard.

Freedom House reported that the world’s press freedom had declined for the eighth consecutive year. It says only one in six people live in countries with a “Free” press and that only the Asia-Pacific region had shown overall improvement. Regional declines were registered in the former Soviet Union and Latin America.

Status changes were reported this year in Bangladesh and Bhutan from Not Free to Partly Free and improvements were seen in India and Indonesia, the report says.

Mizzima News ( http://www.mizzima.com/) is a news organization headquartered in New Delhi, India, run by exiled Burmese journalists. A SEAPA partner, it aims to promote awareness about the situation in Burma and promote democracy and freedom of expression in the country.