7 April 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
Alert-Threat-Burma: A campaign to relocate Burmese refugees to camps along Thailand’s border with Burma is raising danger and anxiety among Burmese journalists exiled and operating from within Thailand.
Although the relocation program is not specifically aimed against exiled Burmese journalists, it magnifies the risk of arrest and deportation among Burmese reporters and editors struggling to provide alternative and independent sources of news and information on developments in Burma.
Long ruled by a military junta, Burma has stifled press freedom since the late 1980’s, and hardly any independently-sourced information can escape from, or flow freely within, the country. In Burma, any independent-minded journalist risks imprisonment, and all mass media outlets are owned or controlled by the state and the officialdom’s own business interests.
Many Burmese journalists have thus fled abroad. There are Burmese news operations running from the US, Europe, South Asia, China, and Southeast Asia, and in Thailand alone, there is a substantial community of exiled Burmese journalists producing nearly a dozen publications and online reports on developments within Burma.
Counting those working for foreign news services, those publishing their own reports, stringers for smaller publications or periodicals, and former political advocates trying to make a transition to independent journalism, there could be as many as 100 Burmese journalists in Thailand.
In what observers see as a move to improve Thai-Burma relations, however, Thailand this year gave an estimated 4,000 refugees living within its borders until last March 31 to relocate to camps along the Thai-Burma border. The effect was to trigger a rush to go into hiding, or to force others into camps that cut their access to their sources or any means to produce and deliver news on Burma.
Irrawaddy Magazine, an independent Burmese news operation publishing out of Chiang Mai, recently noted that even former political activists registered as “Persons of Concern” (POCs) with the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), “will be deemed illegal immigrants by Thailand if they do not move into the camps… As illegal immigrants, Burmese refugees may be subject to arrest, detention and deportation. Thailand will also refuse to grant them exit clearance to resettle in third countries, even if those countries have already accepted their asylum
From New Dehli, an online Burmese news agency, “Mizzima.com”, reported on 5 April that said many exiled journalists in Thailand including three Burmese staffs of an exiled Burmese radio, “Democratic Voice of Burma”, have gone back to the camps. Many have petitioned the UNHCR to allow them to stay outside the camps so that they can continue their journalistic works.
Mizzima however said the journalists were told by the UNHCR that they were liable to be arrested and repatriated to Burma if they left the camps. Once inside the camps, Burmese journalists—like the rest of the POCs—are reportedly denied access to the Internet, mobile phones, or any medium to keep in touch with the outside world.