Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Junta blacks out media


Mizzima, 09 June 2008, New Delhi – The Burmese military junta on Monday warned cyclone victims to remain vigilant against donors, who it said were seeking personal benefits. The donors were taking the credit for being generous and feeding false stories to foreign news agencies, the regime said.

The junta, in its official mouthpiece, New Light of Myanmar, on Monday said, "Internal and external anti-government elements, self-centered persons and unscrupulous elements are now seeking their self-interests by sending to foreign news agencies stories about relief and rehabilitation work they have made up and shot on video."

"Cyclone victims are hereby warned to remain vigilant with nationalistic spirit against the deceptions of self-centered persons and unscrupulous elements," the paper warned.

The warning comes days after the ruling junta raided the residence of a prominent Burmese comedian and relief worker Thura, also known as Zarganar, and arrested him on Wednesday night.

The police team, which arrested Zarganar, also confiscated two cash account books, about 1000 USD, which he had collected to help cyclone victims, and also several video CDs including those on the plight of Cyclone Nargis victims.

"So far we have not received any news about him. We don't know his whereabouts. They [the police] said it would be just for a day or two but till now he is not back. We are worried about him," a relative of Zarganar told Mizzima on Monday afternoon.

But an unconfirmed report received by Mizzima said the Burmese comedian was sent home later on Monday and was kept under surveillance, a situation of house-arrest.

However, his family members were not immediately available to comment and the information could not be independently verified.

The arrest of the Burmese comedian and critic, who was boldly helping cyclone survivors, is clear evidence of intimidation by the ruling junta to all other private volunteers and donors, a Burmese aid worker, working with an international aid agency said.

Following the arrest of Zarganar, rumours have been spreading in Rangoon, Burma's former capital and commercial hub, that at least 12 people, who made video recordings of the devastation caused by the killer cyclone, have been arrested.

While the information cannot be independently verified, the aid worker said a friend in Laputta, who has made video records of the devastation, was taken in for interrogation after police found the clips during a surprise raid in his house.

"This man had several video clips on the devastation and the suffering of the victims. His house was raided by the police and he was taken away for interrogation," the aid worker said.

"Though he was not arrested, he was made to sign a pledge not to continue making video records," the aid worker said.

Meanwhile, sources in Rangoon said at least two dealers of satellite television receivers were arrested during the weekend. Several satellite receivers, which they were selling, were seized.

The source, who wished not to be identified said, Chit Win Kyaing from Grand Electronics and another person from Green Leaf were arrested after the police searched their shops.

"They [the police] did not give any reason. They just raided, confiscated the receivers and arrested them," the source said.

An observer in Rangoon said the junta's recent crackdown on dealers in satellite receivers is an attempt to impose a black-out on the media. Burmese people are curiously watching foreign satellite television broadcasts.

An electronic shop owner in Rangoon on Monday told Mizzima that the police on Friday confiscated at least 50 satellite dishes from a shop in Hlatha Township's Anawratha Street.

"The shop keeper was made to sign a pledge not to sell to people with out a license," the shop owner said.

In Burma, owning a satellite dish or receiver requires license from the authorities. With black marketing in vogue, the law was never strictly enforced. However, it gives the authorities the chance to play around with it.

The junta is taking new steps to stop information flow by arresting and intimidating people who are believed to have contacts with the media, the Burmese aid worker said.

Zarganar, a critic of the ruling junta, was giving interviews and providing information to several news agencies before he was detained on Wednesday. His interviews revealed much about the ground situation - the extent of devastation and relief work done.

The junta, in its mouthpiece newspaper, accused those providing information to the foreign media as well as to Burmese media groups in exile as "saboteurs and destructive elements."

Since Cyclone Nargis struck Burma, the junta has prevented both foreign and domestic journalists from visiting the worst affected areas in the Irrawaddy delta. But several of them have managed to sneak in.

The aid worker said, Zarganar's arrest was not only for his interviews with the foreign media "the authorities also suspected him of assisting foreign journalists to go into the restricted Irrawaddy delta."

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