Twelve international media organisations fighting for freedom of expression and freedom of the press around the world today signed a joint statement calling on the Burmese government to put a stop to its harassment and prosecution of journalists and demanding the release of video journalists jailed for their work for the Democratic Voice of Burma.
Despite pledges by Burma’s new government that it has begun the transition to civilian rule, 17 video journalists (VJs) for the Oslo-based exiled media organisation, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), remain imprisoned. They are among nearly 2,100 political prisoners in Burma, a testament to the lingering hold of dictatorial rule on the country.
The journalists’ work has included the documenting of scorched-earth tactics against ethnic minorities, the killing of monks by Burmese troops, and the ineptitude of the regime following cyclone Nargis in 2008.
DVB VJs have become a source of humiliation for the Burmese government, which resides over one of the world’s most restrictive media environments. Rather than being allowed to continue a service deemed an invaluable ingredient OF democratic societies around the world, journalists are considered criminals who warrant decades-long sentences.
We call on the Burmese government to put a stop to its harassment and prosecution of journalists, who are forced to operate under strict control and surveillance. There is evidence that despite pledges to the contrary, freedom of the press and freedom of expression continue to deteriorate in Burma, with regulations over access to the internet tightened and journalists now forced to self-censor with greater intensity.
Reports from families of a number of the jailed VJs also suggest that torture techniques have been used during the interrogation phase to extract information about DVB’s operation and its network of undercover reporters, which number close to 80. It was under torture that 21-year-old VJ Sithu Zeya was forced to reveal that his father, Maung Maung Zeya, was also a member of DVB staff. They are now serving eight and 13-year sentences respectively.
International bodies such as the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union must apply pressure on the Burmese government to release all jailed journalists.
It is time for the Burmese government to acknowledge the important function of independent journalism and the central role these journalists play in fostering public discourses and the exchange of information in a free and democratic society.
Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB)
Reporters Without Borders (RWB)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
Burma Media Association (BMA)
Index of Censorship
Canadian Journalists for Free Excpression (CJFE)
International Press Institute (IPI)