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April 27, 2008

Junta stifling media freedom, says watchdog

Myanmar’s junta has barred domestic media from reporting on opposition to next month’s referendum on a new constitution, media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders said Thursday.

RSF and the Burma Media Association said they were “outraged” by the methods used by the junta to prevent reporting on opposition to the charter, which pro-democracy activists say will allow the generals to entrench their rule.

“The military government is stopping at nothing to rig a referendum that looks as though it is going to be a sham rather than a free and transparent election,” the two organisations said in a joint statement.

“The supporters of a ‘No’ vote must be able to express themselves freely in the media, and journalists must be allowed to report all viewpoints.” They said no Myanmar media had been allowed to publish the views of supporters of a “No” vote in the May 10 referendum.

RSF also called on the authorities “to let the press do its work without prior censorship and to allow foreign reporters to visit Burma freely.

Meanwhile in Tokyo, ten out of about 150 Myanmar demonstrators and Japanese supporters, who were demanding that all Myanmar citizens living overseas be given the right to vote in an upcoming referendum, were injured in a scuffle with Japanese police outside the Myanmar Embassy.

Myanmar government has stipulated that only citizens with legitimate government documents, such as exit permits, can vote overseas. That rule would exclude most political exiles and refugees. Critics have said the charter is a sham designed to perpetuate military rule and keep pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from running for office.

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