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The 20th anniversary of the tragic Burmese uprising that resulted in the killing of an estimated 3,000 people, the exile of thousands, the jailing of hundreds, and deteriorating human rights and democracy was marked on 8 August in Burma and around the world.

On 8 August 1988 - popularly referred to as "8-8-88" - student-led protests peaked with millions of participants toppling long-time dictator Ne Win. But a new group of Burmese generals snatched power and crushed the protests

Anticipating anniversary protests on Burmese streets, the junta put a heavy military and police presence on every main road, ARTICLE 19 reported. The "Irrawaddy" reports that many Rangoon residents dressed in black to commemorate the anniversary but protests were limited. In North America, Europe, Southeast Asia and elsewhere, rallies demanded freedom. Amnesty International called on Burma to free all prisoners of conscience, and urged the United Nations to press for the release of 20 in particular.

After the 8-8-88 uprising, already restricted political space became even more limited in the military-ruled country, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) says in a special report. Along with thousands of activists and dissidents, journalists, writers, and artists face severe sanctions for works that displease the regime; about a dozen journalists and bloggers are currently in prison. Journalist and activist U Win Tin, now 79 and in failing health, last month marked his 19th straight year in prison.

SEAPA recalls Burma's long tradition of a free press, going back to its first newspaper in 1836. In 1873, King Mindon enacted what is believed to have been Southeast Asia's first indigenous press freedom law; he allowed journalists to report wrongdoings by the royal family, judges and mayors.

At independence from Britain in 1942, Burma had 39 newspapers. Burma expert Bertile Lintner says that "in the absence of any real political opposition, the newspapers functioned as public watchdogs."

But in 1962, General Ne Win seized power and the Burmese military has been consolidating control ever since. The 1962 Printers' and Publishers' Act - still in force - put all publications under a censor board. In 1966 the authorities banned private newspapers and stopped registering Chinese- and Indian-language newspapers. A 1975 "Memorandum to all Printers and Publishers" banned publication on a variety of topics.

After the 8-8-88 uprising, thousands of dissidents fled the country while the military arrested journalists and instituted widespread censorship.

Today, inside Burma, mostly in Rangoon, are some 400 heavily censored newspapers, journals and magazines. Outside, exile-run agencies distribute news through newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations, and web-based media, in Burmese, English and languages banned from mass media. People rely on foreign broadcasters' Burmese-language services, SEAPA says, and thousands of legal and black market satellite dishes.

Visit these links:
- SEAPA article:
- Links from "The Irawaddy":
- Global rallies:
- Activist groups call on China to stop supporting Burma:
- Amnesty International call to free prisoners of conscience:
(13 August 2008)

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