27 July 2004
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
(SEAPA/IFEX) – SEAPA has learned that on 27 July 2004, Military Intelligence agents arrested Lazing La Htoi, a local documentary filmmaker, for having filmed a flooding disaster in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state (northern Burma). They were attempting to block public access to information about the incident.
SEAPA sources said that a week before his arrest, La Htoi, the owner of Htoi San Press in Myitkyina, filmed the scenes of flooding for the Metta Foundation, a local humanitarian group.
The sources said he was arrested while copying the documentary on VCDs. His video clips included an interview with one witness who claimed about 50 people had died in the flooding.
La Htoi, who is in his mid 40’s, has been producing humanitarian documentaries in Kachin state for more than a decade. While private news production houses are banned in Burma, local authorities in Kachin state allow non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and aid workers to produce homemade video documentaries as a medium of education on HIV/AIDS prevention and drug abuse.
An audio recording studio run by La Htoi’s brother was also placed under close watch by the Military Intelligence, according to SEAPA sources.
On 30 July, “The Irrawaddy”, a Bangkok-based news magazine run by exiled Burmese journalists, reported that Burmese authorities also shut down the Cyber Computer Centre indefinitely. The computer store was producing VCDs of La Htoi’s documentary on the flooding disaster and was preparing to distribute them. According to “The Irrawaddy”, 300 copies were recalled from the shop before they could be distributed abroad.
Military authorities had earlier played down the massive flooding, which according to local residents and NGOs assisting flood victims in the areas has claimed about 50 lives and damaged at least 5,000 homes.
“The attempts to withhold or block the information are blatant violations of the universal right to free access to information,” SEAPA said in a statement. The organisation called upon the local authorities to immediately release La Htoi from custody and avoid a recurrence of the incident.
“La Htoi should not be arrested for exercising his rights to freely access information, particularly information that benefits the public interest,” said the SEAPA statement, which was faxed to the Rangoon military junta.