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ANOTHER BIRTHDAY OF REPRESSION

"The continued repression in Burma is a stain on the world's conscience," said ARTICLE 19 on the 63rd birthday of deposed democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The day, 19 June 2008, was her 4,618th under house arrest, and had to be celebrated alone, without a phone call, visit or letter.

The military junta's repression that "has sullied us all," as ARTICLE 19 executive director Dr. Agnès Callamard put it, continues apace. Just a week earlier, 15 youth members of Suu Kyi's party were released after two weeks in detention for marching to her residence on the 18th anniversary of the National League for Democracy (NLD)'s landslide election victory.

Banners held by the arrested youths read: "Free ... Free ... Aung San Suu Kyi" and "We need ... immediate aid," Mizzima News reported. But publicising the desperate situation of victims of Cyclone Nargis was itself dangerous. On 13 June, government authorities arrested a journalist in what is seen as a continuing effort to stifle news and information from Burma's cyclone-ravaged provinces, says Mizzima.

Zaw Thet Htwe, former editor of "First Eleven Sports Journal", was arrested in central Burma and is being detained in Rangoon. Burmese officials have given no reason for his arrest, but colleagues and friends point to his participation in relief efforts for cyclone victims in the Irrawaddy delta. On 22 June, South Korean journalist Lee Yu Kyong was deported from Burma for visiting the NLD office, reports Mizzima, and CDs containing digital pictures of the devastation caused by the Cyclone were confiscated.
In 2003, Mizzima notes, Zaw Thet Htwe was sentenced to life imprisonment for sending reports to the International Labour Organization. Under pressure from the ILO, the junta released him two years later.
In a similar incident, prominent Burmese comedian, actor and director Zarganar was arrested on 4 June, according to family members. Zarganar was among the first Burmese celebrities to help cyclone survivors after Cyclone Nargis struck on 2-3 May. He played an active role in reaching people with aid, including rice and other commodities.

Human Rights First says Zarganar's arrest came a few hours after he appeared in a BBC report on public anger over the junta's handling of humanitarian aid to cyclone victims. Zarganar has been frequently arrested for daring to speak frankly to the media, says Mizzima.

Mizzima also reports that Rangoon shops selling satellite dish antennas are being raided by local authorities. Harassed shop owners "are being made to sign a pledge not to sell the equipment to unlicensed customers," it said.

In cyclone-hit Kungyankone, just outside Rangoon, military authorities have seized at least 10 video and still cameras, Mizzima adds. Authorities have also reportedly been seizing video discs with documentaries and private footage of the cyclone's devastation.

Despite assurances of free access by private donors to cyclone-devastated areas, the military government continues to arrest individuals taking aid to survivors, "The Irrawaddy" reports. It said 10 donors have been arrested so far in June, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Visit these links:
- ARTICLE 19 statement on Aung San Suu Kyi: http://tinyurl.com/5vg73u
- Comedian/actor arrested: http://tinyurl.com/6lqq2b
- Human Rights First on Zarganar: http://tinyurl.com/5bht4q
- Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA): http://www.seapabkk.org/
- The Irrawaddy: http://tinyurl.com/6bqnga
- Private relief creates civil society? http://tinyurl.com/6an7th
(Photo of comedian Zarganar courtesy of Voice of America)

(24 June 2008)

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