Despite the Burmese junta's efforts to return the country to normal after its crackdown on anti-government protests last week, it has not relaxed its decision to close the country to the media. The government is denying entry visas to journalists and arresting or deporting those already inside Burma. I was deported Saturday, four days after entering the country and after filing my first report.
The security agent who informed me of my expulsion from the former Burma said the reason was contact with members of the NLD, the opposition party headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under arrest for much of the last 17 years. This statement, combined with his ease in locating me, indicates that the government had kept track of my movements.
The government's efforts to stop any information from leaving the country have frustrated even veteran reporters on the region. A Japanese photographer was killed by Burmese soldiers while covering a demonstration on September 27, and an unknown number of journalists were wounded during the crackdown.
According to Reporters Without Borders, 11 journalists are currently in jail in Burma, including six who were jailed for their coverage of the demonstrations that began two weeks ago. Journalists who were in the country throughout that time described raids by the security services on hotels where journalists are known to stay; all journalists found during these raids were either arrested or deported. Not a single television crew has been allowed into the country. Reporters Without Borders ranks Myanmar among the 10 countries with the least press freedom.
In addition to its war on the media, the Burmese government is making great efforts to prevent its own citizens from getting information out. It has shut down Internet servers indefinitely, and is striving to prevent any contact between Burmese citizens - and especially Buddhist monks, who led the anti-government protests - and media representatives. Thus students who once freely approached tourists to practice their English now fear to do so, and most of the monks whom I tried to question simply walked by me without a word.
However, the information ban is not two-way: In the evenings, one could see groups of people listening to BBC radio broadcasts or watching satellite television, despite the security services' watchful eyes. Opposition figures also receive Western newspapers, courtesy of the American embassy.
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