The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
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The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

By Aung Zaw MARCH, 2005 - VOLUME 13 NO.3


Censors signal bleak prospects for free press


The popular Burmese lifestyle magazine Han Thit is missing from the newsstands this month. Nor will it appear in April.


The magazine was suspended by the authorities for two months. The reason? It carried a restaurant’s advertisement of a St. Valentine’s Day celebration.


No Valentine cards or red roses then for the regime bureaucrats responsible for such daft decisions. Journalists, editors and publishers are braced for even more inexplicable actions against the media as a new censorship policy takes shape following last October’s purge.


Burma’s police chief Brig-Gen Khin Yi being mobbed by reporters


Media issues surfaced at the National Convention in March, although the discussions yielded no hope for possible relaxation of restrictions on press freedom.


According to a report by the official mouthpiece The New Light of Myanmar, it was agreed at the National Convention session that “NGO- and privately-owned media” would emerge “sooner or later.” So far so good, but then came the crunch: “Permission will be granted to the media that keep their dignity. Therefore, action will have to be taken against those who breach the rules. And consequently, it is necessary to enact laws in connection with the media.”


So, nothing changes. Newspapers and magazines still work under the threat of capricious closure orders and journalists remain in jail for offending the regime. 11 are behind bars in Burma, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. In its annual report, CPJ said conditions for Burmese journalists have deteriorated, with hard-liners tightening their grip on power inside the government and cracking down further on Burma’s official media and the few remaining independent writers and editors.


Burma is condemned internationally as “one of the most heavily censored states in the world.”


One of the jailed 11, the veteran writer and journalist Win Tin, has been in Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison since 1989. When he recently turned 75, Burmese journalists around the world celebrated his birthday and called for his release. In 2001, UNESCO awarded him its Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.


There’s no sign that Win Tin will be released soon, but a regular visitor says the elderly prisoner keeps his spirits high.


Before the October purge, the regime’s censorship board was controlled by senior military intelligence officers close to their disgraced leader, Khin Nyunt.

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