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Journalist Safety Not Secure In Burma

BURMA

The latest death of a Burmese journalist, killed last month while investigating a story about illegal logging, revealed that safety for journalists is still unpredictable here, even though press-freedom reforms were introduced in early 2011.

Soe Moe Tun, 36, a reporter with the Rangoon-based Eleven Media Group (EMG) known for his reporting on illegal activities, was founded dead in the morning of Dec. 13 in Monywa, a town in Sagaing Division. Police confirmed the reporter was beaten to death with a heavy stick. Soe Moe Tun had joined EMG in January 2015.

On Dec. 15, Kyaw Thura Myo, editor of the Farmer Journal in Mandalay city, central Burma, was attacked by a group of four people. He was brutally injured and hospitalized, though the motive in that attack is not clear.

Journalists do suffer attacks, but they are also harassed by government officials. Chief executive officer of the Eleven Media Group, Dr. Than Htut Aung, and Wai Phyo, chief editor of Daily Eleven Newspaper, also of EMG, were arrested in November 2016 and detained for publishing a story that accused Rangoon Division's chief minister Phyo Min Thein of taking a bribe of a luxury watch. The pair are now facing trial. 

In 2014, Aung Kyaw Naing, a freelance journalist and photographer was killed by the Burma Army. He was charged under the Unlawful Associations Act and placed in detention before being shot to death in army custody.
 
Meanwhile, other journalists and even Facebook users have been detained, sued, and charged, while others are facing trial.

Some of these cases and incidents took place under the former junta government, which had a reputation for repression, but others occurred under the new democratically elected government.

Burma remains one of the world's 10 most censored countries, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), but press freedom is growing there, beginning even under the former military regime. A major change made by the military government was the dissolution of the censorship board in 2012, known as the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD).

With the censorship board removed, journalists are no longer required to submit their stories for review before publishing. Reporters may choose to write critical stories, opinions and editorials. They may report on politics, press freedom, and social problems. Readers also have better access to credible information, not just the propaganda aired and published by state-run media in the past.

Until early 2010, no publication inside Burma would have dared to publish a story about democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi who is now State Counselor. Nor would any journalist have covered the activities of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Rangoon-based publications had to avoid politics and especially discussion of opposition movements.

After 2011, exiled or blacklisted journalists were permitted to return and work inside Burma. Burma-based publications could publish critical stories on the government and even on the Burma Army.

However, troubling restrictions and censorthip practices remain in place on media in Burma. The country retains strict laws limiting press freedom and reporting. Government officials use these laws to control journalists through lawsuits.

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