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SEAPA calls for release of Democratic Voice of Burma journalists

(SEAPA/IFEX) - 8 September 2011 - Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), in solidarity with the Free Burma VJ campaign, would like to appeal to the Burmese government to immediately release video journalist Hla Hla Win, of the web-based Burma news organization Democratic Voice of Burma, and 17 of her colleagues who are also in prison.

SEAPA believes that such an action would inspire confidence in Rangoon's sincerity in promoting genuine democracy and ending human rights abuses.

On 9 September 2011, we join DVB and other local and international advocacy groups in urging the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member, to persuade the Burmese government to release these journalists.

"The release of journalists and some 2,000 political prisoners should be central to ASEAN's consideration to accord ASEAN chairmanship to Burma in 2013," said Gayathry Venkiteswaran, SEAPA executive director.

Hla Hla Win, who celebrated her 27th birthday in jail on 29 August, was sentenced to 27 years in jail on 11 September 2009 for interviewing a monk in a monastery in central Burma on the 2nd anniversary of the monk revolution on 9 September 2007. Her other colleagues are also serving lengthy sentences in prisons across the country and have reportedly been tortured.

Last November's general elections in Burma were widely seen by critics as a mere ritual transition of the country's decades-long military dictatorship to civilian rule. Substantive political change, including freedom of speech and freedom of association, is yet to be seen.

In fact, four years after the Saffron Revolution, severe restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of information and freedom of assembly reportedly remain widespread. Comprehensive restrictions on freedom of expression extend to Buddhist monks' talks, a staple feature of Burmese life.

Democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from her arbitrarily-extended house arrest a month after the elections and allowed to move freely within the country. Control of press coverage about her seems to have relaxed.

However, there is no indication so far that the government is moving to release some remaining 2,000 political prisoners.

Rangoon recently set up the National Human Rights Commission to bring the country in line with its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights envisaged in the ASEAN Charter.

"We recognize that many initiatives have been introduced by the Burmese government toward political openness in the 10 months since the elections. Unfortunately, those initiatives are meaningless given the serious extent of human rights violations. A stronger remedy is needed for a country like Burma and the release of the thousands of political prisoners is a small but necessary step," Gayathry said.

"The election is only a participatory form of democracy but respect for freedom of expression, freedom of information and freedom of assembly is the substance of democracy," she added.

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