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Thirty-three IFEX members call for freedom of expression during historic elections

(Mizzima/SEAPA/IFEX) - We, the undersigned, express our grave concern with the continued deteriorating conditions of freedom of expression and freedom of information in Burma weeks before the 7 November 2010 national elections. We are calling on the Burmese government and the governments of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to ensure freedom of expression, access to information, democratic values and human rights are respected during this critical moment in the electoral history of Burma.

We believe that for the election to be a transparent, inclusive and participatory process, the ruling government must respect the right of the Burmese people to be informed of the electoral process. This requires that the government respect the rights of all contesting party candidates to have equal access to the media and freely voice their political messages. It also requires the rights of the media be respected so that they can gain access to information and independently report on the elections from the perspective of all parties concerned.

According to a September 2010 report by Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma, these rights are not being respected, and in fact rights abuses by the ruling junta has surged in Burma ahead of the polls.

While we appreciate that private publications in Burma are to some extent able to cover Burma's 2010 election, the local media, both government and private outlets, continue to face content restrictions on their election coverage. The laws and regulations governing the election are devised to silence critical and opposing views. For example, the media are not allowed to publish or broadcast news articles or reports about the election deemed to undermine the state or the army. Moreover, the misquotation of the Constitution and election laws in media articles and reports are punishable by law.

Foreign journalists are also being denied access to Burma. The Chairman of the National Union Election Commission, Thein Soe, stated in an article published on 18 October 2010 in the "Bangkok Post" that Burma will not allow any foreign election observers or international media into the country for its election. The Election Commission has reportedly also been either withholding election-related information, or failing to announce it in a timely manner. This has prevented a large portion of the Burmese population from knowing their rights as voters, and about what is involved in a free and fair election.

At least three contesting political parties, the Democratic Party (Myanmar), the Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics and the 88 Generation Student Youths (Union of Myanmar) were partly denied access to the state-controlled media as their campaign messages were deemed improper by the Election Commission, and their broadcasts on the state were censored. Furthermore, independent candidates do not have access to the government-controlled media to outline their policies to the people.

The repression of freedom of expression has also been occurring in the cyber realm. There have been several cyber attacks called Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) on Thailand-based magazine "The Irrawaddy," India-based "Mizzima News" (an IFEX member) and Oslo-based "Democratic Voice of Burma", which disrupted the free flow of information during the month of September. The attacks shut down the websites anywhere from several hours to several days.

We appeal to the Burmese military government to immediately guarantee freedom of speech and the free flow of information, and to ensure the Burmese people and the media have access to information on the upcoming elections.

We also urge the leaders of ASEAN governments, scheduled to meet in Hanoi 28-30 October to ensure that Burma is a responsible member of the group and is fully committed to the spirit and principles of the ASEAN Charter and other binding documents that promote access to information, people's right to know, democratic values and human rights.

We therefore urge the governments of ASEAN to apply pressure on the Burmese government to:

•Allow local and foreign journalists access to and free movement within Burma to cover the election before, during and after 7 November 2010

•Allow the media to freely and independently access all electoral candidates

•Facilitate the free flow of information through all communications media, particularly the internet, before, during and after the election

•Allow the overseas Burmese media organizations (such as Mizzima News) to report independently inside Burma

•Allow international monitoring groups and independent election observers to enter Burma to observe the election process including the polling stations before, during and after the election

•Authorise the Election Commission to provide clear and adequate information about the election so voters can understand their right to vote and use their votes to participate in a democratic process

Only if these conditions are met will the election be free, fair and legitimate.

Signed,

Mizzima News
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
ARTICLE 19
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Centre for Independent Journalism - Malaysia
Ethiopian Freepress Journalists' Association
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Free Media Movement
Globe International Center
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Index on Censorship
Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
Institute of Mass Information
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Journaliste en danger
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Watch
Norwegian PEN
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA
World Press Freedom Committee

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