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Junta restricts media coverage of convention on new charter

(Mizzima/IFEX) - The following is a 17 July 2007 statement from Mizzima News, an interim member of IFEX:

Burmese junta restricts media coverage of convention on new charter

The Burmese junta has imposed restrictions on media coverage of the National Convention on the drafting of the constitution, to be held on 18 July 2007.

Burma has been without a constitution since 1988, when its 1974 charter was suspended following a coup led by a new junta regime. In invitation letters to local media and foreign news agencies in Rangoon, the convening committee specified that only one journalist from each organisation may attend the opening ceremony of the much-criticised constitution drafting process, which is targeted for its final session at the convention.

Journalists were also told not to bring in tape recorders and mobile phones.

"The invitation letter told us not to bring in cell phones, cassette recorders, purses and bags. However, some had carried the items despite the same instructions being given last time," a Rangoon-based foreign correspondent told Mizzima News, a web-based news publication run by exiled Burmese journalists in New Delhi, India.

Based on past experience, journalists will only be allowed to cover the opening ceremony but not the actual convention, which will see the attendance of 1,000 delegates.

"Usually we are allowed to stay there for only 10 to 15 minutes just after the opening ceremony. That's it," the source added.

Meanwhile, some foreign journalists who have applied for visas into the country to cover the convention have yet to obtain them.

The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), which obtained a landslide victory in the 1990 general elections and boycotted the constitution drafting process in protest of the detention of its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has branded the convention as a "sham" since the delegates are mostly hand-picked by the junta.

First held in 1993, the convention was resurrected in 2004 after an eight-year hiatus following NLD's protest walkout. The convention is the first of seven steps on the junta's "roadmap to democracy", to culminate in free elections. The draft constitution must be endorsed by a referendum before a general election can be called.

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