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Foreign journalists likely to be barred from covering referendum, says information ministry source

(Mizzima/IFEX) - Burma's military junta's Ministry of Information has reportedly leaked that foreign journalists will not be permitted to cover the upcoming 10 May 2008 constitutional referendum.

A Rangoon-based journalist, citing an official from the Ministry of Information, said foreign journalists and media groups will possibly be prevented from reporting on the referendum's proceedings.

"The official said foreign journalists will not be allowed to cover the May referendum. But he did not mention the reasons why and we could not ask him," the journalist told Mizzima.

A Reuters reporter, who has applied for a visa to enter Burma, has had the application kept pending, another journalist in Rangoon said on condition of anonymity.

"We heard that the Reuters reporter will not be allowed to enter. The case is still pending and no reply has yet been made," explained the journalist.

Similarly, an Indian journalist in New Delhi told Mizzima that several of his friends who applied for visas to cover the referendum have had their initiatives rejected.

"All of their applications for a visa have been denied," said the Indian journalist.

However, an official at the Information and Public Relations Department in Burma's new capital, Naypyitaw, denied claims that applications have been refused.

"I don't know of any such thing. What I know is that we have not stopped issuing visas. Visas are possible not only for journalists but are available for any kind of tourist," the official said.

While foreign journalists are finding difficulties in obtaining Burmese visas, a Rangoon-based journal editor expressed fear that local journalists would not be allowed to freely cover the upcoming referendum either.

"Though the government has announced that journalists and media will be allowed to cover the event, I have a feeling that there will be several restrictions. What we have learned is that the government will place people to take photos of journalists who are covering the event. This could prove intimidating," the editor added.

Meanwhile, sources in Rangoon said the government has ordered all Rangoon-based weeklies to insert the government's campaign logo, which urges people to vote "Yes" in support of the draft constitution, into their periodicals.

"We have been ordered to put the campaign logo either on the front page, back page or third page," remarked a Rangoon-based editor of a weekly journal.

Meanwhile, over 70 democracy activists were arrested over the weekend for participating in the No vote campaign across the country, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).

For further information on the absence of free expression prior to the referendum, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/93109/

For further information on the authorities' reported plan to restrict Internet access during the referendum, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/93065/

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