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Fifteen IFEX members and others call on junta to allow free expression of views on referendum

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The following is a 1 May 2008 joint statement by 15 IFEX members and other organisations:

Free expression groups call on Burmese junta to allow referendum campaigners the right to say "No"

Freedom of expression groups from Asia and around the world say a planned 10 May 2008 referendum on a new Burmese constitution is turning into a "sham", with Burma's military rulers banning campaigns against the proposed charter and threatening media that are less than supportive of the referendum.

"Critics have been threatened with jail if they speak out against the draft or call for a boycott of the vote. Supporters of a 'No' vote are flatly banned from publication and the media has been ordered to reprint propaganda by junta officials," said Roby Alampay of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), a member of the Burma Action Group. "This is not a referendum - it is diktat."

The group of 22 members and partners of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), comprising the Burma Action Group, say that without a free and open political debate the referendum and the constitution itself will be a useless sham.

A crackdown in Burma is proceeding. Six activists were arrested after organising a demonstration calling for a "No" vote; scores more were arrested in the northern state of Rakhine in April for wearing T-shirts calling for a "No" vote.

The Burmese rap singer Yan Yan Chan was arrested on 17 April, reportedly because of songs defending free speech and media rights in Burma.

And several supporters of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), which has called for a "No" vote, have been arrested in the run up to the referendum.

A referendum "Yes" vote will effectively legitimise military control over the state and bar Nobel laureate and NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi from standing in a future presidential election, said the members of the Burma Action Group. This, they say, can only further damage regional stability.

China, India, and Thailand can only benefit from an open, constructive debate on reform in Burma. Issues like refugee rights, HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, and drug running - all problems exacerbated by Rangoon's policy of censorship and repression - need open addressing.

As a start, say the members of the Burma Action Group, international figures such as the UN Rapporteur on Free Expression Ambeyi Ligabo and UN envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari must be allowed to come to Burma to witness the vote, and bring observers if they wish.

The Burmese authorities must allow the local media to publish freely in the last days left before the referendum.

Independent foreign media - whether Western or Asian - must be allowed to visit Burma freely; and the Burmese authorities must not block the free flow of information from the country to the outside world via the Internet or any other means.

And a new law setting three-year prison sentences for campaigners distributing documents opposing the referendum must be suspended and "No" vote campaign supporters explicitly protected from charge.

Burma Action Group members:

Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES), Nepal
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Philippines
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Malaysia
Citizen Lab, Canada
Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Nepal
Freedom House, USA
Index on Censorship, UK
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Media Support (IMS), Denmark
International News Safety Institute (INSI), Belgium
International Press Institute (IPI), Austria
Mizzima News, India
Norwegian PEN, Norway
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), Pakistan
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Thailand
VIKES Foundation for Media and Development, Finland
World Association of Newspapers (WAN), France
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), USA

For further information on free expression conditions around the referendum and the arrests of "No" campaigners, see:

For further information on the Yan Yan Chan case, see:

For further information on the junta's blocking of the Internet, see:

For further information on the blocking of foreign reporters, see:

Southeast Asian Press Alliance

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