US journalists question motives for deportation

May 11, 2009 (DVB), Two American journalists deported from Burma last week after delivering workshops on photography and feature writing say reasons for their arrest may lie in their meeting with a local Burmese business owner.

Following a series of workshops organised by the American Centre in Rangoon last Wednesday, Jerry Redfern and Karen Coates were arrested by immigration authorities and deported to Bangkok.

Reasons for their arrest were never given, although the ruling State Peace and Development Council is notoriously fearful of foreign media presence in Burma.

"We had been in Burma to teach and lecture about creative non-fiction feature writing and photography," they said in a press release issued today.

"The programs were follow-ups to similar work we did in January, all of which had been approved and acknowledged by the Scrutiny Board and the Special Branch (police)."

Police had visited Redfern's class on its first day, and they say all subsequent lessons proceeded without incident.

Rumours surrounding reasons for the arrests include fallout from John William Yettaw's arrest the same day after he illegally entered imprisoned opposition leader Aung Sann Suu Kyi's compound.

Others claim the two journalists were involved in politically sensitive work, which the government have a reputation for reacting harshly to.

"The only story we had in mind was a small piece on laphet thote, (pickled tea leaf salad) explaining the flavours, history and cultural significance of the dish," the press release said.

"In Mandalay, a colleague introduced us to the owner of a longstanding laphet thote business, [who] invited us to visit a trade centre where people buy and sell beans and pulses, key ingredients for laphet thote.

"We accepted and planned to meet on Thursday morning, , but we never had that chance. This might be all, or part, of the reason we were deported."

The two emphasised their efforts to avoid government scrutiny, or any "journalistic" appearance.

The Burmese junta are rarely issue foreign journalists with visas, and Burmese citizens found communicating with overseas media are often imprisoned.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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