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Arrests of Burmese journalists on the rise

Oct 30, 2009 (DVB), Around 20 journalists and entertainers have been arrested in the past month while many more have gone into hiding, a reporter at a Rangoon-based news journal said.

Burmese government authorities appear to have targeted relief workers and journalists involved with the Lin Latt Kyae ('Shining Star') relief programme for cyclone Nargis victims.

"About 20 people, including entertainers, writers and press workers, have been arrest so far," said the reporter, speaking under condition of anonymity.

He said that 12 people were arrested on Wednesday, including staff members from The Voice, Foreign News, Favourite, Pyi Myanmar and Kandarawaddy journals.

Fear of further arrests has shaken Burma's media community, which is often targeted during government crackdowns on dissent.

Now is a particular sensitive time in Burma as the ruling junta prepares for elections next year, despite pressure from the international community to release all political prisoners prior to polling.

"These people were not involved in any political activity," said the reporter.

"There are many more missing but it is not confirmed that they have been arrested. Three junior journalists from my publication are in hiding."

A wider investigation by the government into post-cyclone relief work appears to be underway, with people involved in unofficial financial brokering also being called in for interrogation.

The investigations being conducted may be linked to overseas donations and relief work in cyclone hit areas, the reporter said.

"They are trying to trace where and how the money came to the relief teams," he said. "They want to know if the money came from the opposition groups overseas."

The New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) today "strongly condemned" the arrest on Wednesday of freelance journalist and blogger Pai Soe Oo, reportedly a member of Lin Latt Kyae.

"Burma's military government claims to be moving toward democracy, yet it continues to routinely arrest and detain journalists," said Shawn W. Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "Reducing international pressure should require demonstrable improvements in press freedom."

San Moe Wei, secretary of the Burma Media Association, said that the numbers of journalists being arrested in the run-up to elections would likely increase.

"The government doesn't like its operations exposed to foreign media so I'm sure we'll see many more," he said.

Reporting by Than Win Htut and Francis Wade


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