Myanmar journalists face
intimidation, pressure
from junta

Journalists working in military-ruled Myanmar continue to face intimidation, torture and arrests in reporting on the country's corrupt and brutal regime, despite international calls for more press freedom, a conference on media safety heard Tuesday.

A Myanmar journalist, who asked not to be identified, told the conference that contrary to government claims, journalists in the country were treated as "dangerous enemies".

"There is no freedom for Burmese journalists to write about political and social conflicts," he said while asking that pictures of him and his colleague not be taken, out of safety concerns.

The Regional Conference on Creating a Culture of Safety in the Media in Asia-Pacific was organized by the International News Safety Institute (INSI) from Dec. 15-16, and brought together participants from 11 countries.

Mon Mon Myat, of the Burmese Journalist Protection Committee, said the junta had set up rules under a 2006 law on electronic media and 1996 law on film and computers that restricted how journalists could work.

Under the laws, journalists are not allowed to take pictures that might "pose a threat" to the government, with offenders facing up to 59 years in prison. Internet users are also under strict surveillance by the government, which requires service providers to check every five minutes websites visited by users and to immediately report suspicious or dangerous activities.

In 2008, 12 journalists and bloggers were arrested in Myanmar, the protection committee says. Several popular websites, including yahoo.com and hotmail.com, have also been blocked as the junta further isolates its people from the outside world.

"Eighty percent of Internet sites are banned by the government," said Ronald Aung Naing of the Burmese Journalist Protection Committee.

He added the government also monitored people regularly at checkpoints for cameras or video cameras with "dangerous" content.

Eko Maryadi, of the Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists, told the forum that although media freedom in Indonesia had improved since the fall in 1998 of former president Soeharto's 32-year regime, journalists still faced intimidation, harassment and lawsuits in reporting on certain issues.

"We have also seen more business groups filing complaints against journalists, claiming the reports harmed their reputation or business. This was rare in the past," he said.

The latest such case is the complaint filed by the Bakrie Group against Tempo daily over its reports on the financial problems of the group's top subsidiary, PT Bumi Resources.

The alliance recorded 43 cases of violence against journalists in 2005, with 53 in 2006, 75 in 2007 and 52 cases as of September this year.

The conference closed with a declaration calling on all governments in the region to take responsibility for the safety of all journalists working in their countries and to lift impunity for groups that had endangered the lives of journalists.

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