11. Freedom of Opinion, Expression, and the Press
Freedoms of opinion, expression, and the press have been virtually non-existent in Burma since the military coup of 1988. The Press Scrutiny Board (PSB), a division of the powerful Ministry of Information, scrutinizes every publication for anything perceived as ‘anti-government.’ Similar censorship boards retain tight control over art, music, film, performance, and all other forms of artistic expression. All authors, publishers, journalists and poets must submit a personal biography to the board of literary censorship. The board then investigates to find out if these individuals have any association to opposition political parties or connections to other people or groups deemed threatening by the regime. Anyone suspected or proved to have ‘undesirable’ connections is placed on a blacklist and their work is not allowed to be published.
People’s access to information in Burma is officially limited to one main state run news agency that disseminates information to government controlled newspapers, radio, and television stations. Burma’s four daily newspapers are all published by the News and Periodicals Enterprise (NPE), a division of the Information Ministry. While currently there are approximately 50 private weekly and monthly magazines published in Rangoon, all are kept under close scrutiny by the regime. Burmese people are well aware that much of the news from official sources is propaganda, and to find out what is really happening in their own country and the rest of the world they must depend on sources of information outlawed by the regime.
A main source of outside information is the daily Burmese-language radio broadcasts by Radio Free Asia (RFA), Voice of America (VOA), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB). In addition a limited number of publications by exiled groups working along the Thai/Burma border are smuggled into the country. The junta is aware of and attempts to cut off these sources of information. Outside radio broadcasts are closely monitored and sometimes scrambled, and individuals caught distributing or possessing dissident news material are punished. At present, within Burma, there is almost no underground press activity, as the students who undertook such activities in the past, have largely been imprisoned, killed, or forced into hiding or exile.
As part of their overall effort to control information, the military regime severely restricts all forms of communication. Without a government permit, which is expensive and difficult to obtain, individuals can be arrested for possessing or using fax machines, mobile phones, photocopiers or computers. The Internet can only be accessed through a company called Bagan Cybertech, which is partially government owned. In the past year the company began offering public access through Web-based e-mail to about 900 selected web sites, none of which contained information on international news or allowed users to access other sites. The cost of this service effectively barred most people in Burma from being able to use the Internet.
International Media watchdog groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters Without Borders) have repeatedly criticized the Burmese regime for its suppression of press freedoms, and its imprisonment of journalists. On 13 February 2002, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a report, "Under Pressure: How Burmese journalism survives in one of the world’s most repressive regimes." The report stated that reporters in Burma work under a "harsh regime of censorship, licensing, and threats." The report also went on to note that "Burma is by far the most information-starved country in Southeast Asia. "
11.2 SPDC Laws Restricting Freedom of Opinion, Expression, and the Press
(Source: Burma UN Service Office)
The Official Secrets Act 1923
This law makes it an offence, among other things, to possess, control, receive or communicate any document or information, the disclosure of which is likely to affect the sovereignty and integrity of the state or friendly relations with foreign states or otherwise prejudicial to the safety of the state (sec. 5). No exception is made for disclosure of classified information on public interest grounds. Anyone convicted of an offence is liable to be punished with imprisonment for up to two years, or with a fine, or with both. Other, lesser known laws have been used by the military regime to justify their frequent clampdown on freedom of statement. These include:
The Burma Wireless Telegraphy Act 1933
This act makes it an offence to possess, without official permission, any ‘wireless telegraphy apparatus’. This law was amended in 1995 to cover the use of unlicensed fax machines, and again in 1996 to cover computer modems. Anyone found possessing these apparatus without official permission was made liable to be imprisoned for up to three years or fined up to 30,000 kyat. In April 1996, the SLORC used this law to prosecute James Leander Nichols, a close friend of Aung San Suu Kyi, on charges of operating unregistered telephone and facsimile lines from his home in Rangoon. Nichols was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, but died two months into his prison term, allegedly as a result of previous medical problems.
Section 122, Penal Code of Burma
This section of the Penal Code makes it an offence to commit treason against the government. This offence is punishable with death or with imprisonment for life. Several of the NLD functionaries who attended meetings in Mandalay in September and October 1990 with a view to forming a provisional government-in-exile after the election results were disregarded, were arrested and sentenced from 10 to 25 years’ imprisonment under this section.
The Law Protecting the Peaceful and Systematic Transfer of State Responsibility and the Successful Performance of the Functions of the National Convention Against Disturbances and Oppositions
This law makes it an offence, among other things, to incite, demonstrate, deliver speeches, make oral or written statements and disseminate anything which would ‘disrupt and deteriorate the stability of the state, community peace and tranquility and prevalence of law and order’, or ‘affect and destroy national reconsolidation’, or ‘affect, destroy and belittle the tasks being implemented at the National Convention for the emergence of a firm and enduring Constitution and cause misunderstanding among the people’. It also forbids anyone from drawing up or writing or distributing a Constitution for the country without legal authorization, and makes any attempts at collaboration in any of the above-mentioned acts an offence.
Each of these acts is made punishable with imprisonment from between three months to twenty years and a possible fine. Organizations found guilty of any of the offences risk being banned or disbanded and their properties confiscated. This law was used, for example, against nine students in September 1996 after they had distributed leaflets outside Aung San Suu Kyi’s house in Rangoon. Observers believe this law specifically targets the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi who, in 1996, announced that she and her colleagues had decided to write a new constitution for the country due to the SLORC’s continued refusal to hand over power to the 1990 elected representatives.
Emergency Provisions Act 1950
This law confers sweeping powers on the authorities to silence and punish any real or perceived dissent, even in the absence of a proclaimed state of emergency.
It is an offence, punishable with imprisonment for up to seven years, to commit any act which ‘violates or infringes upon the integrity, health, conduct and respect of State military organizations and government employees towards the government’ (art. 5(a)), or ‘causes or intends to spread false news about the government’ (art. 5(e)), or ‘causes or intends to disrupt the morality or the behavior of a group of people or the general public’ (art. 5(j)).
Article 3 renders any act which is ‘intended to cause, or causes, sabotage or hinders the successful functioning of the State military organization and criminal investigative organizations’ liable to be punished with death or life imprisonment.
Similar punishment is prescribed for ‘collecting and divulging, or intending to divulge, information to people involved in treason against the State, on the movements, the strength, the location, the guidelines and regional defense strategies of the State military organizations and criminal investigative organizations who are engaged in preserving the stability of the State’ (art. 2).
The Printers and Publishers Registration Law 1962
This law has historically been the main instrument of official censorship, requiring all books, magazines, other periodicals, song lyrics, and motion picture scripts to be submitted for vetting to the SPDC prior to publication or, in some cases, prior to distribution. The effect has been to shut out any criticism whatsoever of the regime. Anyone who fails to comply with any rules or regulations framed under the law could be imprisoned for up to seven years and fined up to 30,000 kyat.
State Protection Law 1975 (also known as the ‘Law to Safeguard the State from the Dangers of Destructive Elements’)
This law allows the government to declare a state of emergency in a part or the whole of Burma and to restrict any fundamental rights of the citizens in specified regions or all over the country (sec. 4).
The law gives the authorities sweeping powers: anyone who is suspected of having committed, or who is committing, or who is about to commit, any act which ‘endangers the sovereignty and security of the state or public peace and tranquility’, can be imprisoned for up to five years without trial on the orders of the executive (sec. 14, as amended by Law 11/91, dated 9 Aug. 1991).
This law also allows the executive to pass restriction orders under which anyone can be confined to a specified area or have their freedom of movement otherwise restrained, or be prohibited from possessing or using specified articles (sec. 11). No order passed under this law can be the subject of an appeal to any court, although appeals are allowed to be made to the Union Cabinet.
The Television and Video Law
This law provides for compulsory licensing of television sets, video cassette recorders and satellite television by the Ministry of Communications, Posts and
Telegraphs, and of the video business by newly constituted State or Divisional Video Business Supervisory Committees. The latter have been given responsibility for deciding on the grant of video business licenses and for inspecting and supervising video businesses within their territorial jurisdictions.
The law also provides for mandatory censorship of all video tapes, whether locally produced or imported, by a Video Censor Board composed of government officials and representatives of the public. The requirement of obtaining censorship certificates has been extended also to videotapes imported by foreign diplomatic missions or agencies of the UN for public exhibition. Operation of a television transmission business without permission from the SPDC is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years or an unspecified fine.
The Motion Picture Law
This law creates a regime of censorship for conventional cinematograph films. A license must be obtained from the Myanmar Motion Picture Enterprise, a State agency. Violation of the terms and conditions of a license are punishable with a fine ranging from 5,000 kyat to 50,000 kyat and with revocation of the license. The law also provides for the establishment of a Motion Picture Censor Board. Foreign diplomatic missions and the UN have been made subject to the censorship regime under this law. Appeals against decisions by both entities can only be made to the Ministry of Information whose decision on appeals are final and conclusive.
The Computer Science Development Law
This law requires anyone who wishes to import, possess or use computer equipment, notably those with networking or communication facility, to obtain a license from the Ministry of Communications, Posts and Telegraphs. It also requires those who wish to set up ‘a computer network or connecting a link inside the computer network’ to apply for prior sanction to that Ministry’ (sec. 28).
The Ministry is granted absolute power to grant or refuse licenses and sanctions and to impose conditions. Failure to obtain a license or sanction is made punishable with imprisonment for between seven and 15 years and with an unspecified fine (secs. 31, 32).
It establishes strict controls on the formation and operation of computer-related associations - three types of associations may be formed with official sanction (the Computer Enthusiasts, Entrepreneurs’ and Scientists’ Associations), all others are illegal. Anyone forming, running or belonging to an illegal association is liable to be punished with imprisonment for up to three years, or with a fine, or with both.
The law makes attempts or conspiracy to commit an offence punishable with the same severity as the offence itself.
11.3 State of the ‘Freedom of the Press’ in Burma
On 23 October 2002, Paris-based media watchdog organization Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) released the first worldwide index of press freedoms. In this index Burma was ranked 137 out of 139 countries for press freedoms, with only China and North Korea ranked lower. Likewise a report released by Freedom House, "Freedom of the Press 2003: A Global Survey of Media Independence," gave Burma a score of 94 out of a 100 for press freedom, with higher scores indicating less freedom.
Strict government censorship of all publications continued throughout 2002, and the SPDC continued to prohibit journalists from reporting on any events of real importance. Topics banned from media coverage included: natural disasters, the AIDS epidemic, human rights developments, debates about government policies, criticisms and commentary about the poor state of the national economy, or any local, national or international news which could be seen as uncomplimentary to the government. On 6 May 2002, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released from 19 months of house arrest, however the SPDC banned local media from reporting on her release.
On October 22 the state-run New Light of Myanmar reported the following speech given by Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan outlining the objectives of the Ministry of Information: "Recently, the destructive expatriate groups taking refuge abroad and the terrorist insurgents using the territories of some neighboring countries bordering Myanmar as their dens are launching smear campaign to discredit Myanmar with the help of some foreign media groups that are against Myanmar…Misusing the international media, they are launching slanders against Myanmar..with accusations including sexual violence against Shan women, religious oppression, sectarian discrimination and forced recruitment of juveniles as themes of their invented stories…The mass media is the only means to counter the alien media penetration and manipulation against the people..It is the duty of the officials, the mentors and the patriots to collectively give correct outlook and knowledge to the youths who are going to shape the future. Sadly, some quarters are found to be misleading the youths. Such acts are a great danger to the Union...(Source: New Light of Myanmar)
Severely restricted in the news they can print, the 50 or so private journals published in Burma are also regularly forced to pay stiff bribes just to get non-offensive materials passed by the censorship board. If an article is found to violate government standards, the editors are forced to change the entire layout of the magazine to hide the removal of the censored material. Thus there is a strong incentive for magazine editors and writers to engage in self-censorship in order to avoid this extremely time-consuming and expensive process.
One publication which appears to be able to operate with less censorship is ‘The Myanmar Times,’ a glossy weekly magazine launched in March 2000, and published in English and Burmese. The magazine is privately owned by an Australian publisher, but is closely linked with the Office of Strategic Studies (OSS), which is controlled by military intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt. The Myanmar Times has more latitude than any other news source in the topics it is allowed to cover, and recent issues have included articles about the reopening of NLD offices and the dialogue between the regime and Aung San Suu Kyi. However many analysts have argued that the Myanmar Times is just a more subtle propaganda tool controlled by Khin Nyunt, and is primarily aimed at attracting foreign investment. In terms of increasing access to information the Times has had little impact, as at 500 Kyat per copy, most Burmese cannot afford to buy the publication.
On 16 December 2002, Irrawaddy Magazine interviewed well-known Burmese author and literary critic, Maung Swam Yi who stated that aside from the Myanmar Times, there has been no change in Burma regarding censorship and press freedoms since reconciliation talked began two years ago. Maung Swam Yi also reported to Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) that [regarding censorship]: "There is nothing changing. You must go three times a month to the PSB (press scrutiny board) office: once for proof censoring, second for printing and the third for delivering. If you are absent or delayed, your magazine will definitely be banned for months, years or for life."
Individuals that fail to fall in line with censorship regulations are denied jobs, harassed, and sometimes thrown in jail. According to The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 9 media professionals are currently imprisoned in Burma. In 2002 RSF released a report labeling the country "the largest prison for journalists in Asia." In a November 7th article in Irrawaddy Magazine, Vincent Brossel, Director of the Asia-Pacific Desk at RSF stated: "Burma is one of the countries of the world where the government has used a very large spectrum of mechanisms and policies to oppress journalists and suppress freedom of expression. As we usually say ‘there is no freedom without press freedom’. But in the case of Burma, we might say ‘there will be no press freedom without democracy." (Source: Irrawaddy)
Foreign journalists, while not subject to the same risks and pressures as Burmese journalists, also face restrictions on reporting news from Burma. International journalists who write articles critical of the regime can find themselves banned from the country. Swedish journalist Bertil Lintner, a reporter for the Far Eastern Economic Review and internationally renowned authority on Burma, has been blacklisted from the country for the past fifteen years. No foreign journalists are allowed to live in Rangoon, with the exception of one correspondent for China’s official Xinhua News Agency. Visiting foreign reporters must apply for special journalist visas as well as a "Permit to Conduct Journalistic Activities." In the past, reporters granted visas were kept under close surveillance by MI agents, who often tried to prevent them from interviewing opposition leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Since Aung Suu Kyi’s release on May 6th, foreign media representatives report that they have been allowed much freer access to the country. Despite this, a limit on the number of visas allowed for international correspondents was reimposed later in the year. In October the SPDC barred the press corps traveling with Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer from entering Rangoon.(Source: CPJ)
In May, following a border dispute with Thailand the regime issued an order forbidding the mention of Thailand or Thai products in the Burmese press. Editors also reported that they were ordered to print anti-Thailand articles written by MI-backed writer, Dr. Ma Tin Win. Thai authorities have deemed these writings highly insulting to the monarchy and banned Dr. Ma Tin Win from entering Thailand. This did not deter the SPDC Ministry of Information from awarding her the 2002 National Literature Prize.
In July, the government banned 15 Thai journalists from entering Burma, accusing them of "damaging bilateral relations, causing disunity among ethnic minorities and belittling [government] policies." In October, the exile group Burma Media Association (BMA) reported that the fashion magazine Beauty was banned for carrying advertisements from a Thai company. BMA noted that the Burmese private media, which is heavily dependent on Thai companies for advertising revenue, was hit hard by the government ban.
Regime Censors Information on HIV/AIDS
In January 2002 Irrawaddy magazine published an article, ‘The AIDS Embargo,’ examining censorship of information on HIV/AIDS in Burma as well as within Burmese exile groups in Thailand. Physicians and health workers in Burma told Irrawaddy that speaking publicly about HIV/AIDS is even more difficult than speaking on political issues, as the generals believe that opposition groups and the international community are using the AIDS issue to incite criticism against the SPDC. In addition, the government’s Press Scrutiny Board (PSB) refuses to publish accurate figures or personal stories of people with AIDS. While Burma’s Ministry of Health cites the number of HIV patients at 40,000, UNAIDS estimated last year that over 500,000 people are HIV positive. One Burmese physician stated: "The number could be higher, the government does not want us to reveal actual numbers or areas [with high infection rates] to the public or the press. It is very sensitive and controversial." One staff member at the Myanmar Times reported that: "We want to write more stories related to AIDS, but officials tell us to be careful."
Despite the fact that increasing amounts of HIV/AIDS education materials are being published in the government run media, health workers still say that this is insufficient. They also cite serious concerns that the censorship of AIDS news and information will directly result in more casualties. One nurse from Rangoon reported that "Over 80 percent of people in Thakata [in Rangoon division] do not know how HIV is transmitted." She adds, "Among family members, the mention of condoms is taboo."
In December 2001 the regime refused to allow two HIV patients to attend the "Fifth International Conference on Home and Community Care for Persons Living with HIV/AIDS" in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Release of Journalist Myo Myint Nyein
Burmese journalist and NLD member Myo Myint Nyein was freed on 13 February 2002 after spending 12 years in prison for publishing a poem against the army and then for complaining about prison conditions. His family told RSF that he was released from Tharrawaddy prison (100 km north of Rangoon) and taken to Rangoon to be interrogated by the MIS military police. He was expected home later in the day.
Held since September 1997 at Tharrawaddy after six years in Rangoon’s Insein jail, Myo Myint Nyein had been sentenced on 19 November 1990 to seven years in prison for publishing a poem criticizing the Burmese army in his magazine Yin-Kyae-Hmu (Cultural). After a show trial, he was given another seven-year sentence on 28 March 1996 for helping to write a letter to the United Nations special rapporteur for Burma about prison conditions and ill-treatment of prisoners at Insein. His release, two years before the end of his sentence and along with four other political prisoners, came during the visit to Burma of the UN special rapporteur, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who recently urged the regime to free the journalist.
While in detention, Myo Myint Nyein was never given proper treatment for the acute psychological and stomach ailments that plagued him for years. For several months he was forced to live in a dog kennel at Insein prison. A former prisoner who shared a cell with him said solitary confinement, interrogations and untreated illnesses brought down what was once a physically robust man, whose father was a boxer. (Source: RSF)
State Media Censors News of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s Release
On 6 May 2002, government run media blacked out the news of Aung San Suu Kyi’s release following 19 months of house arrest. Instead front pages of state-owned newspapers featured as their top story the activities of the visiting Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong. "Just imagine, we get to see the faces of only the generals and their wives. How come they don’t publicize our leader’s release," shouted Nwo Nwo, a grocery store owner in Yangon, as her customers nodded in agreement. State-run TV also failed to report on her release. This media silence is typical, as the SPDC apparently fears that publicity will only increase Aung San Suu Kyi’s popularity. "I am very disappointed that Daw Suu’s release was not even broadcast on our TV. Many people wanted to have a glimpse of her," said San San, a 37-year-old housewife. (Source: AP )
Release of Magazine Editor Sein Hlaing
After 12 years in prison and two years before the end of his sentence Sein Hlaing, co-publisher of the cultural magazine Yin-Kyae-Mu, was freed from Tharrawaddy jail (100 km north of Rangoon) on 14 May 2002.
Sein Hlaing was arrested by members of the MIS on 9 September 1990, along with the journalist Myo Myint Nyein and the poet Nyan Paw. In November 1990 he was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for having publishing an article entitled "What’s going on?", which was critical of the attitude of the Burmese army, in the magazine he co-published with Myo Myint Nyein. On 28 March 1996, Sein Hlaing received an additional seven-year sentence for having contributed to a report sent to the United Nations’ special rapporteur for Burma, containing information about prison conditions and the ill treatment of prisoners detained in the Insein jail, and for his involvement in the editing of an underground publication within the prison. After six years in the Insein jail in Rangoon, Sein Hlaing was transferred to No 3 block in the Tharrawaddy jail. Forty-five-year-old Sein Hlaing was an active member of the NLD from its inception in 1990. He was in charge of the opposition party’s youth section in Rangoon. (Source: RSF)
SPDC Bans Publication of Thai-related Articles and Advertising
On 22 May 2002, the Literary Works Scrutinizing Committee, one of the government’s censorship agencies, told the managing editors of Rangoon’s private press that publication of articles referring to Thailand were forbidden, as well as Thai advertisements. The editors had to sign an agreement undertaking to comply with the directive. According to DVB, the editors were also ordered not to use the term ‘Thailand’ but instead refer to the country as ‘Yodaya’ (the name formerly used for the Kingdom of Siam). The issuing of this directive followed the diplomatic and military clashes between Burma and Thailand. The SPDC decided to close frontier checkpoints between the two countries following border skirmishes between troops from Rangoon and armed opposition groups.
Thai companies are the principal source of advertising revenue for many newspapers and magazines in Burma. Robert Ménard, General Secretary of RSF (Reporters Without Borders) issued a letter to SPDC Home Affairs Minister, Colonel Tin Hlaing, stating that: "The military junta has just issued yet another grotesque directive which, in addition to depriving the population of news about Thailand, threatens the very existence of private publications that are dependent on advertising." RSF has further noted that the junta’s latest action not only represents an unfair financial sanction of the private press, but also that it is an act of censorship. (Source: Mizzima)
NLD Announces Plan to Start Opposition Newspaper
In a 24 May 2002 interview with the Thai newspaper, The Nation, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi announced that she would apply for permission to publish an NLD newspaper. "We will apply for the right. We have a plan. We’ll see whether this will be allowed," she said. (Source: Reuters)
State Media Launches Propaganda Campaign Against Thailand
At the end of May 2002 the SPDC launched a media campaign which appeared to be an attempt to punish Thailand for recent border skirmishes. Newspapers in Rangoon started referring to Thailand as "Yodaya", a local corruption of Thailand’s former capital, Ayutthaya, which was conquered by Burma in 1767. "When the Myanmar government is mad at Thailand, they call it Yodaya," said one Rangoon-based analyst. "This has happened before.". "Our forefathers never acknowledged Yodayas as their rivals who had military skills and military pride," said one article in the English-language New Light of Myanmar newspaper. "They did not think highly of the Yodayas. They regarded Yodayas as spiritually and physically weak and insincere people. Yes, they were."
The article, written under the pseudonym "Kyaw Htin Nawrahta", which is the name of an ancient Burmese king, went on to describe various acts of treachery
blamed on Thailand. (Source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur)
Two Magazines Banned by Censors
In June Burma’s Press Scrutiny Board (PSB), which is responsible for censoring all private magazines and journals, prohibited two magazines from publishing. The Living Color business magazine and Mhyar Nat Maung Mingalar magazine were both told that their current issues were not fit for distribution. Sources close to the magazines reported that the Mhyar Nat Maung Mingalar was barred from distributing this month’s magazine because it placed an advertisement ahead of the government’s mandatory propaganda page, which states the "three national causes." Living Color was censored for printing an advertisement from the MK Billiard Company. MK Billiard reportedly infuriated the government last month for refusing to donate snooker tables to the state-owned Myanmar Billiard and Snooker Association, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Sports. "I think the government is just upset with MK," said a source familiar with the Mhyar Nat Maung Mingalar. "The ban will only affect this month’s issue." (Source: Irrawaddy)
Regime Blacklists 15 Thai Journalists
On 12 July 2002, the Burmese authorities blacklisted 15 Thai journalists, accused of writing propaganda against the Burmese military junta. These reporters were not quoted by name, but Kyaw Win, the deputy chief of military intelligence, said they work for the newspapers: "The Nation", "Bangkok Post", "Thai Rath", "Thai News", "Daily News", "Siam Rath", "Matichon", "Khao Sod" and an unidentified radio station. "These 15 have been blacklisted for consistently writing anti-Myanmar articles. They will not be given any visas to come to this country," said Kyaw Win.
Two NLD Members Arrested for Possession of Banned Newspaper
In July 2002 two NLD youth members, Aung Thein and Kyaw Naing Oo were arrested and beaten for possessing the New Era (Khit Pyaing) journal, which is published by Burmese dissidents living in Bangkok. Family members report that the two men were accosted by five or six police officers, while walking near Rangoon’s Thiri Mingalar market. Kyaw Naing Oo’s family said he received five stitches in his head as a result of injuries sustained during the attack. The two men were youth members of the NLD’s Kyee Mying Daing Township office, and are also said to be in close contact with Aung San Suu Kyi. "They accompanied Aung San Suu Kyi on some of her political trips," one friend reported to Irrawaddy magazine. "That’s also one of the reasons why we think they were arrested in such a harsh way." Separate trials were held on August 23 and 26 in Rangoon’s Insein Prison. Aung Thein and Kyaw Naing Oo were charged under 5(j) of the 1950 Emergency Provision Act. Attorneys from the NLD’s Kyee Myin Daing office did represent the two men, however, court authorities did not allow them to present any evidence at the trial. (Source: Irrawaddy)
SPDC Requires New Personal History Forms for Publishers and Editors
On 12 August 2002, the SPDC State Peace and Development Council Literary Works Scrutinizing Committee (LWSC) issued more stringent restrictions on the publishers and chief editors of magazines, journals, and books. The new regulations require all publishers and chief editors to submit their personal history forms to the LWSC. This edict caused confusion, as the LWSC had issued a similar order two years prior to this. When some publishers argued that they had already submitted their personal histories, the LWSC replied that changes could take place in two years and personal history forms should be updated. Publishers and chief editors were warned that their literary works could not be published nor distributed if they had not yet submitted their personal history forms. In addition, the LWSC has also asked for the nom de plume or pen names of all writers and journalists. According to one magazine publisher, the LWSC has warned the publishers and chief editors that if poems and articles of writers whose personal history forms have not been submitted appear in the publications and magazines, the publishers and chief editors would be held responsible and action would be taken against them. (Source: DVB)
Thirty Activists Arrested for Possession of Banned Newspaper
On 25 September 2002, about thirty activists, mostly former political prisoners, were arrested and interrogated by intelligence services for possessing opposition publications, notably the newspaper Khit Pyaing (New Era) which is published in Thailand.
On 11 October, Reporters without Borders and the Burma Media Association (BMA) called on the junta to release the detainees. "This new crackdown is evidence of the military regime’s hostility towards the pluralism of information," said Reporters without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres) secretary-general Robert Menard. "It is intolerable that dozens of Burmese people should be imprisoned simply for having read or distributed a newspaper," he wrote in a letter to Burma’s Home Minister Colonel Tin Hlaing signed jointly by BMA president U Thaung.
In 1993, 23 people were arrested for both reading and distributing the New Era journal. Seventeen of them—including elected members of parliament—were sentenced from 7-20 years in prison. (Source: The Nation)
Two Magazines Banned
On 25 October 2002, the publication permits for two popular magazines were withdrawn and they were each ordered to stop publishing for a month by the SPDC censorship board. Han Thit (New Style) magazine was banned for publishing the poem of a dead poet, Maung Chaw Nwe which contains a reference to another poet, Ko Lay (Inn-wa Gonye). Ko Lay’s writings are prohibited by the regime and magazines are forbidden to mention his name because he participated in a literary meeting organized by the NLD. Another magazine, ‘Beauty Magazine,’ was banned for featuring an advertisement from a Thai company. (Source: DVB)
This move follows Thai authorities’ decision last month to blacklist Ma Tin Win, the author of a series of articles accused of insulting Thailand’s monarchy. Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said on June 28 that his ministry had blacklisted both Ma Tin Win and Maung Maung, editor of the official New Light of Myanmar.
11.4 Continuing Detention of Journalists
According to The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 9 media professionals remain behind bars in Burma. CPJ has compiled the following list of people who have been arrested and imprisoned for reasons such as "distributing information hostile to the State", owning undeclared video cameras, talking with foreign journalists or sending information to Burmese media in exile groups. The majority of journalists imprisoned in the country are also members of the NLD. Most of these journalists were active in the "Spring of Burmese press" in August 1988, when some one hundred new publications appeared, many of them openly denouncing crimes perpetuated by the dictatorship led by General Ne Win. Since the military regime seized power in Burma, three journalists have died in prison. (For more information on conditions for political prisoners see chapter on Arbitrary Detention and Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance).
U Win Tin, free-lance
Imprisoned: July 4, 1989
U Win Tin, former editor-in-chief of the daily Hanthawati and vice chairman of Burma’s Writers Association, was arrested and sentenced to three years of hard labor on the false charge of arranging a "forced abortion" for a member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). One of Burma’s most well-known and influential journalists, U Win Tin helped establish independent publications during the 1988 student democracy movement. He was also a senior leader of the NLD and a close adviser to opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
In 1992, he was sentenced to an additional 10 years for "writing and publishing pamphlets to incite treason against the State" and "giving seditious talks," according to a May 2000 report by the Defense Ministry’s Office of Strategic Studies. On March 28, 1996, prison authorities extended U Win Tin’s sentence by another seven years after they convicted him, along with at least 22 others, of producing clandestine publications—including a report describing the horrific conditions at Rangoon’s Insein Prison to Yozo Yokota, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Burma.
U Win Tin was charged under Section 5(e) of the Emergency Provisions Act for having "secretly published anti-government propaganda to create riots in jail," according to the Defense Ministry report. His cumulative sentence is, therefore, 20 years of hard labor and imprisonment.
Now 72 years old, the veteran journalist is said to be in extremely poor health after years of maltreatment in Burma’s prisons—including a period when he was kept in solitary confinement in one of Insein Prison’s notorious "dog cells," formerly used as kennels for the facility’s guard dogs. He suffers from spondylitis, a degenerative spine disease, as well as a prostate gland disorder and hemorrhoids. The journalist has had at least two heart attacks, and in 2002, he spent several months at Rangoon General Hospital following a hernia operation.
In July 2002, reports emerged that U Win Tin’s health had deteriorated even further, and many international groups, including CPJ, called for his immediate and unconditional release. In November 2002, authorities again transferred U Win Tin to Rangoon General Hospital, this time for medical treatment in connection with a heart ailment.
Ohn Kyaing, free-lance
Thein Tan, free-lance
Imprisoned: September 6, 1990
On September 7, 1990, Col. Than Tun, Burma’s deputy chief of military intelligence, announced at a press conference that Ohn Kyaing and Thein Tan were among six leaders of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) arrested on the previous day, according to international news reports.
On October 19, 1990, the Information Committee of the junta (then known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council and later renamed the State Peace and Development Council) announced at a press conference that Ohn Kyaing and Thein Tan "had been sentenced to seven years imprisonment by a military tribunal for inciting unrest by writing false reports about the unrest, which occurred in Mandalay on 8 August 1990," according to the BBC’s translation of a state radio broadcast.
The Mandalay "unrest" the committee referred to involved the killing of four pro-democracy demonstrators by the military. Government troops fired on protestors—who were commemorating the democracy rallies of August 8, 1988, during which hundreds were shot dead—killing two monks and two students.
Ohn Kyaing, who also uses the name Aung Wint, is the former editor of the newspaper Botahtaung and one of Burma’s most prominent journalists. He retired from Botahtaung in December 1988 to become more involved in the pro-democracy movement, according to the PEN American Center. In 1990, Ohn Kyaing was elected to Parliament for the NLD, representing a district in Mandalay. (The results of the elections, which the NLD won, were never honored by the military junta.) A leading intellectual, he continued to write. Thein Tan, whose name is sometimes written as Thein Dan, is also a free-lance writer and political activist associated with the NLD.
PEN reported that in mid-1991, Ohn Kyaing received an additional sentence of 10 years in prison under the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act for his involvement in drafting a pamphlet for the NLD titled "The Three Paths to Power." Thein Tan also received an additional 10-year sentence, according to Amnesty International, presumably for the same reason.
In a list of Burmese political prisoners published in April 2001, Amnesty International reported that the sentences of both men were reduced to 10 years on January 1, 1993. However, Ohn Kyaing and Thein Tan remained in prison at the end of 2002. Ohn Kyaing was jailed at Taungoo Prison, and Thein Tan was jailed at Thayet Prison, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma.
Maung Maung Lay Ngwe, Pe-Tin-Than
Imprisoned: September 1990
Maung Maung Lay Ngwe was arrested and charged with writing and distributing publications that "make people lose respect for the government." The publications were titled, collectively, Pe-Tin-Than (Echoes). CPJ believes he may have been released but has not been able to confirm his legal status or find records of his sentencing.
Sein Hla Oo, free-lance
Imprisoned: August 5, 1994
Sein Hla Oo, a free-lance journalist and former editor of the newspaper Botahtaung, was arrested along with dissident writer San San Nwe on charges of contacting anti-government groups and spreading information damaging to the state. On October 6, 1994, Sein Hla Oo was sentenced to seven years in prison. San San Nwe and three other dissidents, including a former UNICEF worker, received sentences ranging from seven to 15 years in prison on similar charges.
Officials said the five had "fabricated and sent anti-government reports" to diplomats in foreign embassies, foreign radio stations, and foreign journalists. Sein Hla Oo, elected in 1990 to Parliament representing the National League for Democracy (NLD), had been imprisoned previously for his political activities.
Though San San Nwe was granted an early release in July 2001 along with 10 other political prisoners associated with the NLD, Sein Hla Oo remained in jail. He was held at Myitkyina Prison, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma.
Though Sein Hla Oo’s sentence should have expired in August 2001, he is now being forced to serve the remainder of an earlier 10-year prison sentence, issued by a military court in Insein Prison in March 1991, according to his wife, Shwe Zin. Authorities had arrested Sein Hla Oo in August 1990 along with several other NLD members but released him under an amnesty order in April 1992. Shwe Zin told the Oslo-based opposition radio station Democratic Voice of Burma in an interview that her husband had signed a document in October 2001 agreeing to abide by Article 401 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which allows prisoners’ sentences to be suspended if they pledge not to engage in activities that threaten public order.
Aung Htun, free-lance
Tha Ban, free-lance
Imprisoned: February 1998
Aung Htun, a writer and activist with the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, was arrested in February 1998 for writing a seven-volume book documenting the history of the Burmese student movement. He was sentenced to a total of 17 years’ imprisonment, according to a joint report published in December 2001 by the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma and the Burma Lawyers Council. Aung Htun was sentenced to three years for allegedly violating the 1962 Printer and Publishers Registration Act, seven years under the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, and another seven years under the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act. He is jailed at Tharawaddy Prison.
In April 1998, the All Burma Students Democratic Front announced that five others were also prosecuted for contributing to the books, including journalist Tha Ban, a former editor at Kyemon newspaper and a prominent Arakanese activist. Tha Ban, whose name is sometimes written as Thar Ban, was sentenced to seven years in prison. He is being held at Insein Prison.
In August 2002, the human rights group Amnesty International issued an urgent appeal on behalf of Aung Htun and Tha Ban, saying that both journalists required immediate medical attention. Amnesty reported that Aung Htun "has growths on his feet which require investigation, is unable to walk, and suffers from asthma," and that Tha Ban’s eyesight has "seriously deteriorated."
Aung Pwint, free-lance
Thaung Tun, free-lance
Imprisoned: October 1999
Aung Pwint, a videographer, editor, and poet, and Thaung Tun, an editor, reporter, and poet better known by his pen name Nyein Thit, were arrested separately in early October 1999. CPJ sources said they were arrested for making independent video documentaries that portrayed "real life" in Burma, including footage of forced labor and hardship in rural areas. Aung Pwint worked at a private media company that produced videos for tourism and educational purposes, but he also worked with Thaung Tun on documentary-style projects. Their videotapes circulated through underground networks.
The military government had prohibited Aung Pwint from making videos in 1996 "because they were considered to show too negative a picture of Burmese society and living standards," according to Human Rights Watch, which awarded Aung Pwint a Hellman-Hammett grant in 2001. A notable poet, he has also written under the name Maung Aung Pwint.
The two men were tried together, and each was sentenced to eight years in prison, according to CPJ sources. Aung Pwint was initially jailed at Insein Prison but was later transferred to Tharawaddy Prison, according to CPJ sources. Thaung Tun was jailed at Moulmein Prison, according to the Thailand-based Assistance
Association for Political Prisoners in Burma.
11. 5 Academic Freedom
(Information in this section was taken from the ABSFU 2002 Education Report)
There is no academic freedom in Burma, and the Ministry of Education controls the selection of all faculty and students at universities. No new academic programs or courses can be initiated in the country without government permission. All academic discussions and seminars must be government sponsored, and moderators and university faculty members leading these events are chosen by the regime. The Ministry of Education, Ministry of Science and Technology, Human Resource Departments, and Ministry of Defense regularly organize academic seminars and symposiums affiliated with foreign institutes or governments, under the titles "Social Development," "Economy," "Education," or "Human Resources." Many Burmese scholars are invited to these events and encouraged to "freely" participate and present their papers and research on specific topics. However, all papers and other information presented by scholars at these seminars is banned from public distribution, and reports from these seminars are generally ignored by the government once the event is over.
University professors are forbidden to say anything critical in their lectures about the curriculum, the education system or the government in general. Military Intelligence and government officials regularly join university meetings to remind academics of these laws and to intimidate them into submission. Members of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) are reportedly present in every classroom to report on teachers or students who speak out against the government. All academic articles and papers are subject to censorship, and academic publications cannot be issued, or even distributed within the university, without government permission. Burmese scholars who criticize the government or contradict government policy are frequently prohibited from publishing articles in their field of study. For example, in February 2003 the government censorship board prohibited the publication of articles by Dr. Than Tun, a prominent Burmese historian, after he criticized a government order that forced people to pay respect to white elephants.
Newsletters, research booklets and academic reviews issued by the departments of various educational institutes have been banned since the start of military rule in 1962.
Students are prohibited from publishing course reviews, and study guides, and only government sponsored textbooks on these subjects are available. Students are generally discouraged from undertaking research and the writing outside of their coursework.
Thesis proposals from the graduate students, studying subjects such as History, Burmese, English, International Relations, and Social Development, must all be submitted to the MIs and university authorities for approval. A small number of Burmese students are able to pursue graduate studies at universities in Japan and Singapore through scholarship programs. However officials from the Burmese Embassy reportedly show up to monitor these students’ thesis defenses to ensure that none of their research could be interpreted as ‘anti-government.’ (For additional information on education in Burma see chapter on ‘Rights of Education and Health.’)
Student Literacy Association Warned to Disband
In the first week of July 2002, 17 students from 4 different universities in Rangoon formed a group called the University Student Literacy Association. The Association began publishing the "Universities Literary Journal" without seeking permission from the government censorship board. On 27 July 2002, two members of the group, Win Ko and Nyan Lin Aung were arrested by military personnel from No.7 Military Intelligence Unit. Some other members of the literary association were also arrested and taken into police custody in July. These students reported that they were questioned and told to disband the literary association, and then released after two days of detention. Since then, other members of the group have been harassed and threatened by the MIS. Amongst them, Thaw Thaw Myo Han, a writer and contributor to the monthly magazines Sa-Be-Byu, Han, Han-Thit and Atwe-amyin, has frequently been arrested and detained because of his involvement in the literary group and his contribution to student publications. Finally, the government censorship board banned his articles and contributions in various monthly magazines. (Source: ABSFU)
11.6 Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression
People in Burma are denied the right to freedom of speech. Ever-present MI undercover agents force people to be cautious in what they say, and open, verbal support of groups such as the NLD can, and has led to imprisonment.
Throughout Burma, November is traditionally "Literature Month," and literary talks or speeches are held nationwide. On these occasions, invited authors or poets come and give speeches about literature to the public. The military regime has forced some of these speeches to be canceled by refusing to issue a permit for public gatherings. In other places, the authorities insist on being involved in selecting which authors are to be invited. Some famous authors are unable to give public speeches because the government deems their political backgrounds to be suspicious. Authors that are allowed to speak are warned by the authorities not to talk about political issues. Members of the MIS attend these events and tape all the speeches. If any speech is interpreted as having political content, action is taken against the author and organizers of the event.
Man Arrested and Tortured for Allegedly Contacting Foreign Radio Stations
On 12 February 2002, a Burmese national was arrested by SPDC authorities upon his return from Ranong, Thailand. Ko Tin Saw alias Tharkhan, was arrested by a combined group of Bayintnaung Market security forces and Kyant Phut [derogatory term for Union Solidarity and Development Association] members in front of Daw Khin Kyi’s shop in Bayintnaung Market, Kawthaung. He was caught with a mobile phone and the February issue of Khit Pyaing journal [a monthly journal published by Burmese opposition groups in Thailand] and was accused of passing information to foreign radio stations. Ko Tin Saw was handed over to Kawthaung-based No 3 Military Intelligence Battalion that same evening. After torturing and interrogating Ko Tin Saw, the military intelligence obtained through his confession the names of five other people who had also allegedly passed information to foreign broadcasting stations, and made arrangements for their arrest.
The SPDC has stated that they believe there are many informers sending information to foreign radio stations and noted that they plan to arrest these people as soon as possible. A combined team has been monitoring and questioning those who return from Ranong at Mway Kyun, Bayinnaung Bridge, and Dhammayone jetties. Two SPDC military intelligence personnel have been waiting everyday at Kawthaung Airport ready to arrest any suspects. Furthermore, another 10 informers have already been sent to Ranong. On 29 January, The Kawthaung Border Committee sought the assistance of Thailand’s Ranong Border Committee to arrest and repatriate anti-SPDC activists in Ranong. (Source: DVB)
Two Prominent Writers Detained For Criticizing Forced Relocation
On 7 April 2002, two prominent Burmese writers, U Win Pe (pen name Maung Swan Yi) and Daw San May (pen name Shwegu May Hnin) were placed under house arrest. School teacher Daw Yin Yin Myint and U Sai Hla Kyaw who live in the same district were also arrested. The reason for these arrests is not yet known but local residents believe that the four may have been arrested for giving interviews to overseas Burmese language radio stations regarding the demolition of their houses by military forces. These houses were demolished on April 5th, when a troop of over 1,000 soldiers, security policemen and the members of pro-military organization USDA (Union Solidarity and Development Association) demolished 25 houses in Rangoon’s Waggi district of Kamayut township.
Waggi district had been destroyed by fire in 1977, and the SPDC allowed new houses to be constructed again in 1999. Later the government changed their policy and demanded that residents relocate somewhere else. The Waggi District residents were ordered by Major Yan Naing Oo to demolish their houses at their own expense not later than April 5th, and were warned that they may be arrested if they failed to do so.
U Win Pe, age 65, won the National Literary Prize in 1964, and has produced a large body of analytical literature and poems. Daw San May, 63, has written novels and is also an elected MP of the NLD. (Source: DVB)
Jailed Poet Receives PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award
On 11 April 2002, the New York-based PEN American Center named Aung Myint, a Burmese poet serving a 21-year prison term, as one of the recipients of its 2002 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards. The award honors international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression.
On September 14, 2000, poet Aung Myint and his assistant Kyaw Sein Oo were arrested by members of the Military Intelligence Service for distributing information about persecution of National League for Democracy figures to international press agencies and Western diplomats based in Rangoon. The charges specifically related to a press release he and his assistant issued a few hours after NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested by security forces as she was trying to leave the city in September 2000. Aung Myint was charged with violating the State Protection and Emergency Provision Acts and on December 20, 2000 was sentenced by a military court to 21 years’ imprisonment. His assistant was tried separately under the Printers and Publishers Registration Act and sentenced to seven years in prison.
A leading representative of the so-called Second Line poets the second generation of poets following Burmese independence Aung Myint is known for poems illuminating the daily lives of the people. In the 1980s he worked as a civil servant and contributed articles and poems for the official newspaper Botahtaung, the now-banned magazine Pay-ful-lwa (The Message), and Cherry, where he served as assistant editor beginning in 1988. He was also active in the NLD, and in 1997 was jailed for two years for his work as the party’s head in Bahan Township. SPDC authorities fired him from his position at Cherry and prohibited him from returning to his post when he was released, reportedly banning his name from all Burmese publications. He was working as an information officer at NLD headquarters in Rangoon, where he was in charge of literary postings, at the time of his arrest in 2000. Aung Myint is married to a successful fiction writer and has a daughter who is also a well-known writer and actress. He is serving his 21-year sentence in Insein prison and is scheduled to be released on September 13, 2021.
Two Students Arrested for Staging Peaceful Protest
On 17 August 2002, law student, Thet Naung Soe, and another student, Khin Maung Win, staged a peaceful protest in front of Rangoon city hall. During the protest Thet Naung Soe unfurled the flag of Myanmar’s underground student union, which shows a fighting peacock, while Khin Maung Win handed out leaflets. Within minutes police personnel in charge of Rangoon city hall security arrived and arrested the two students and took them inside the city hall. (Source: AFP)
The All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) has reported that 4 other students were also arrested in conjunction with this protest. According to ABSFU, three university students were arrested on Saturday, a day before Thet Naung Soe and Khin Maung Win’s protest outside Rangoon’s city hall. Thet Naung Soe and Khin Maung Win were arrested after the protest along with another student.
On November 6 2002, a closed court sentenced Thet Naung Soe to 14 years imprisonment and Khin Maung Win to 7 years. (Sources: AFP, Reuters)
Man Arrested for Making a Democracy Symbol
On 7 November 2002, Ko Shwe Aung was arrested in Mandalay for making a symbolic gold-coated copper hat. Known as kha mauk (hat worn by Burmese farmers), the hat is a recognized symbol of the opposition National League for Democracy and was gold-coated as a gift for NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. According to DVB, Ko Shwe Maung was sentenced four days after his arrest to three years in prison. "The reason we made kha mauk was to show our confidence and support for Aung San Suu Kyi," U Shwe Maung said in a tape-recorded message for reporters outside Burma. "We wanted to warn the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council] not to ignore the results of the elections [in 1990], to stop their foolish actions and to transfer power to the elected party." Par Par Lay, a famous comedian who spent five-and-a-half years in prison and was released in July last year, also helped produce the hat. "Kha mauk gives shade. It means we are able to provide shade for the people of Burma. We believe kha mauk will stand up for the people of Burma," Par Par Lay said. (Sources: Irrawaddy, AFP)
11.7 Freedom of Expression in the Arts
Writers, poets, filmmakers, actors, musicians, painters, and other artists in Burma are subjected to numerous restrictions which seriously inhibit their freedom of expression. The paranoid censorship of the PSB has stilted the creativity and variety of Burmese art that was once famous in Southeast Asia. The censorship board ensures that nothing produced in Burma or imported from outside the country can be interpreted as "anti-military" or "western-influenced" which could be detrimental to "national security" or "culture. " Such censorship is in direct opposition to the very nature of art and artistic expression, as any change to the original piece can potentially ruin a masterpiece. The SPDC lavishes awards, luxuries, and chances to go abroad on artists who choose to be pro-military and who stay away from expressing any ideas deemed political. Artists who fail to fall in line with government policy are isolated and unable to get their artistic work in the public eye.
Censorship of Film and Television and Restrictions on Actors
Filmmakers in Burma are required to submit their scripts to the PSB, and the censorship boards are notoriously sensitive to what might be interpreted as "anti-regime." During the January 2002 annual Motion Picture Awards, Information Minister, Major General Kyi Aung warned film makers to preserve national culture and avoid foreign influence. In his speech he advised those attending the ceremony to abide by two fundamental elements in Burmese culture, which he said were a "sense of shame" and fear of sinning or indulging in uninhibited desire. The New Light of Myanmar quoted the general as saying that adopting, what he described as "alien styles" amounts to neglecting the national culture. (Source: VOA)
Filmmakers in Burma are restricted in how much film they can buy, and after the shooting, the completed film must again be approved by the censors before it is released. Filmmakers are also required to occasionally produce government propaganda films. Actors who work in these propaganda films receive benefits and recognition. It has been the case that actors who have participated in pro-military films have won the Burmese academy awards. It is also common for actors to be seen in posters or TV specials, which promote the army. Beautiful young female actors dressed in military uniforms appear on calendars saying, "We’re with you!" Such actors are given opportunity for great popularity and wealth.
In the past year both foreign and locally-produced karaoke videos have become increasingly popular in Burma, however these videos are also subject to censorship for obscenity or anything that appears derogatory to the government or national culture. Mr. Thein Tun Aung, director of the state-run Myanmar Motion Picture Enterprise told the Myanmar Times that authorities were cracking down on video piracy, and in January 2002, 14 people had been handed jail terms of up to nine years and three months. ‘Those who break laws protecting intellectual property rights or who show videotapes which have not been passed by the censor board can expect severe punishment,’ he said. ‘We will protect the national culture.’ Last year a total of 800 obscene videotapes and laser discs, all made overseas, were seized and destroyed by the Video Supervisory Committee and police. (Source: AFP)
The 2 Television stations in Burma are known for their propaganda, and most of the programming is dedicated to showing the "achievements" of the military. There are a limited number of Chinese TV programs and foreign cartoons which make their way onto the airtime. Foreign films are also subject to censorship.
Censorship of Music and Musicians
Musicians face many difficulties in finding ways to express themselves through their music in Burma. The economic situation has made music a formidable occupation as instruments and music lessons are prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthy military elite, and finding venues at which to play is difficult. Lyrics to music are put through the same censorship as other writings, and even the musical style itself is often censored. Rock and Roll music is now common in Burma, and other western influenced styles, such as rap, are making their way in, but most western music is not widely available. Instead, Burma has an active "copy" industry, where original western melodies are converted into Burmese lyrics deemed un-harmful to the regime or the "national culture." The regime continues to monitor dress styles of musicians, and forbids them to dance on stage. The regime encourages (through the offering of privileges) musicians to sing government and pro-military songs and sing at government sponsored events, and those who try and refuse are threatened with not being able to have their music produced.
Censorship of Painting, Photography, Sculpture, other Visual Arts, and Performance Art
Painters, photographers, sculptures, and other visual artists are also subjected to military scrutiny. As visual art played an important role in the 1988 uprisings, the regime has taken efforts to put an end to art deemed ‘revolutionary.’ After the military reestablished power in 1988, the fine-arts building at Rangoon University was destroyed and the fine arts program discontinued. Today it is only possible to study visual arts under private tutorship, or at the Cultural University in Rangoon. The Cultural University (CU), a military institute, is a prime example of the situation of artistic expression in Burma. According to the ABFSU 2000 report, ‘The Current Education System in Burma’, the CU only accepts 100-150 students per year, who are required to be USDA members. The authorities at the Cultural University admit students to CU according to such requirements, without first learning of the applicants’ artistic abilities. In addition, the Minister of Culture of the SPDC has told CU students that if they do not participate in any student strikes or demonstration, the regime will ensure them positions as officers in government administration. In the 1998-99 academic year, 27 students were enrolled for the Arts (Music), 48 Students were enrolled for the Arts (Performance), 29 students were enrolled for the Arts (Painting), and 5 students were enrolled for the Arts (Sculpture). At the CU, students of Music and the Dramatic Arts are denied the chance to study international music and western plays, due to prohibitions from the military regime. The professors, lecturers and schoolmasters of the university are academics from the elite military society and military servicemen.
In her book, "Living Silence," author Christina Fink reports that in Burma art exhibition organizers are required to submit a detailed written description of each of the art items to the Information Ministry prior to any art exhibition in Burma. Then, before the exhibition opens, the authorities come to do a final inspection. If any of the art pieces are considered to be "subversive", the art is not only taken down or away, but also stamped "censored" on the art work itself.
Performance art in Burma has also been restricted. The SPDC has promoted dance as part of its campaign to retain "national culture", yet dancers are only given career opportunities in such government sponsored campaigns or events. Comedy also suffers under the military eye, and comedians who make jokes, however innocent, that are considered to be "disruptive" are often threatened, interrogated, or even detained. In 1996 two comedians U Pa Pa Lay and U Lu Zaw were sentenced to seven year’s imprisonment for making anti-government jokes during one of their performances. Following a sustained campaign by Amnesty International the two were released in July 2001 after spending over 5 years in labor camps.
11.8 Control of Computer Technology and Communications
The SPDC has long viewed the open exchange of information as a potential threat to the regime and has invested considerable efforts to monitor and restrict all forms of communication. Prior to 2002, existing laws mandated that all post, telecommunications, and e-mail services must be provided through a state agency, the Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT). This changed only slightly when in March 2002 a semi-private company, Bagan Cybertech, began offering e-mail accounts along with MPT, and even going so far as to offer limited Internet access. However this company is also closely liked to the regime as its CEO, Dr Ye Naing Win, is the son of Military Intelligence chief Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt. Throughout 2002, regulations stipulating that all computers, fax machines, and modems, must be registered by the government remain in place. Individuals that fail violate these laws face a 7-15 year prison sentence.
Telecommunications in Burma
In Burma the number of telephones has steadily increased over the years, from 67,000 in 1988 to over 280,000 at present. However according to government statistics, this is still only approximately one telephone per 200 people. On March 24, the Myanmar Times reported that Burma had launched a GSM mobile telephone network which would support 100,000 mobile phones in Rangoon and Mandalay. Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) project manager for the GSM project, Kyaw Win, told the Myanmar Times that the first phase of the system involved 70,000 GSM handsets in Yangon and 30,000 in Mandalay. Prior to this only 15,500 mobile phones were in circulation, and they cost up to 3.0 million kyat (3,660 US dollars at the current black-market rate). (Source: AFP) However even with the new GSM network, mobile users report that communication problems are common and service prices remain high. In addition only close friends and relatives of the generals can easily obtain mobile phones.
On September 16, a joint force of police, military intelligence and immigration under the command of border immigration control (NaSaKa), confiscated more than 300 personal mobile phones from residents in Kawthaung. One local resident reported that authorities in Ranong (Thailand) complained that people were using these phones to contact international Burmese language radio stations such as BBC and DVB to report on incidents in Burma and corruption in the military. However residents report that most of the mobile phones are used by local businesses to order goods from Thailand and inquire about commodity prices. (Source: Network Media Group)
Irrawaddy magazine also reported that in mid-September 30 mobile phones were seized by the chief of the local Peace and Development Council in Three-Mile village, in the Kawthaung area. The reason for the seizures is unknown, but one Three-Mile resident told The Irrawaddy, "The first phones to be confiscated belonged to government officials." It’s reported that Thai mobile phones are brought into the country illegally by members of Burma’s Border Discipline Committee. In Rangoon and Mandalay, a mobile phone costs about four million kyat, or nearly US $4,000. At the border, illegal Thai mobile phones are much cheaper and more easily accessible. (Source: Irrawaddy)
The Internet and Electronic Mail in Burma
The Internet was officially introduced in Burma in January 2000 when MPT became the sole Internet provider in the country. Initially, to connect to the Internet, individuals and businesses first had to obtain a license from MPT, which was extremely difficult for the average citizen, as priority was first given to government officials and organizations, then to foreign embassies and foreign businesses, and finally to favored local businesses. In March 2002 Bagan Cybertech, a "semi-government" company run by the son of Military Intelligence chief Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, and its private joint venture partner, Maykha, began offering public e-mail accounts and restricted internet access. However overall this has done little to democratize internet access, as the company requires that customers pay an installation fee of US $260, which puts access out of reach for most of the population who make an average of about US $15 a month. A March 11th article in the Myanmar Times estimated that at the time there were approximately 4000 e-mail users in the country but less than 100 internet users.
In Burma it remains illegal for companies to operate unlicensed private computer networks connected to their overseas offices. On 10 July 2002, the Ministry of Post, Telegraph and Communications issued an order stating that companies must obtain permission to establish such networks which could be used to connect to the Internet. Those found to be in violation of this order can face from 7 to 15 years in jail. (Source: AP) The government also monitors the content of e-mails for any "anti-nationalistic" sentiment. At the beginning of 2000 the MPT issued regulations for the Internet in which any mention or discussion of politics was explicitly banned.
Through Bagan Cybertech, public users are allowed to send and receive e-mail and have access to about 860 web sites. One sales manager for BaganNet said that in the future they will try to open up more sites requested by subscribers, but only if this is cleared with the board members, who are members of the military elite. Sales manager Ye Htut stated that: "Internet users will be able to access all web sites except free e-mail and sites which could have an ill-effect on Myanmar culture." Sites currently accessible include computer-related sites, corporate websites for hotel chains, airlines, international banks, electronics companies, sports sites, a few foreign universities, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and Nasdaq. However internet users are blocked from access to any international news sites, web-based e-mail accounts or search engines. At present some companies and NGOs which have close ties to the government are being allowed to apply for accounts that will allow them unrestricted internet access. However it is unknown whether or not this permission will be granted by the government. Prices for these accounts are very steep, at US $500 for installation charges, $300 in annual maintenance charges, as well as regular monthly charges.
In March 2001, an RSF report entitled "Enemies of the Internet", described how the military regime had responded to the Internet presence of many of its opponents by launching its own propaganda site in 1996: myanmar.com. The junta has also sent out large amounts of disinformation e-mails in an attempt to discredit political opposition groups, specifically the NLD. In addition, The Defense Ministry and government intelligence services closely monitor the Internet and have reportedly sent virus-infected messages to Burmese dissidents. (Source: RSF)
In September, the monthly business journal, Living Color reported that the country’s first Internet cafes would be opening in October, but customers would not be allowed to use the email services. At present, any company wishing to open an Internet cafe must do so in cooperation with Bagan Cybertech. (Source: Irrawaddy) Prior to this there were a few ‘internet cafes’ in Rangoon, however they did not actually offer access to the Internet, and instead only allowed customers to use CD-ROMs. To send an e-mail, users first had to put the information (text only) on a floppy disk, then take it to an office with an e-mail server, and pay US$1 per page to send it.
On November 13 the SPDC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Japan on cooperation in the field of computers. The two countries have been cooperating in the IT sector since a Myanmar-Japan e-learning Center was established in Rangoon in October 2001, where Burmese educators could be trained by Japanese experts. In January 2002 Burma set up its first Information and Communication Technology Park in Rangoon. Khin Nyunt, who is also chairman of the Myanmar Computer Science Development Council said at the opening ceremony of the park that "the government is committed to the development of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) in the country and will render necessary assistance and support as much as possible." The ICT Park was constructed with an investment of US$ 1.2 million from more than 40 local private companies. About 32 companies have set up shop at the park, and some 1,500 programmers will are slated to work there. However people attending the ICT park opening noted that when they tried to access the Internet at the teleport they were blocked from entering any websites critical of the government. (Source: Reuters)
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