New York, August 6, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the recent arrest of Burmese documentary filmmaker Lazing La Htoi, who was detained on July 27 in Myitkyina, the capital of the northern Kachin State, for filming and distributing footage of extreme flooding that hit the region in late July.
La Htoi shot footage of the record floods with his personal video camera and then made 300 copies of the scenes on video compact disc for distribution, according to The Irrawaddy, a newspaper run by exiled Burmese journalists in Thailand. Local authorities arrested him on July 27 while he was copying the footage, and he remains in the custody of military intelligence, according to CPJ sources.
The Cyber Computer Center, where the copies of the video were made, was closed and ordered to recall all 300 copies of the footage before they could be distributed overseas, according to The Irrawaddy.
According to CPJ sources and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, a regional journalists’ group, for the last 10 years La Htoi, 47, has run a private printing house and has produced video documentaries for the Metta Foundation, a U.S.-based organization founded on Buddhist principles that is one of the few nongovernmental agencies permitted to assist in rural development in Burma. Private video production companies are not allowed in Burma, which severely restricts press freedom and the distribution of information both inside and outside the country. However, foundations and other nongovernmental agencies are permitted to produce videos for educational purposes.
Burma’s official newspaper Kyemon did not report any extensive damage resulting from the recent floods, according to The Irrawaddy, but La Htoi’s video included footage of a dead body and an interview with a local resident citing as many as 50 casualties resulting from the flooding, according to CPJ sources.
Nine other journalists are currently behind bars in Burma, including documentary filmmakers Aung Pwint and Thaung Tun, who were arrested in October 1998 after working on a documentary about forced labor in Burma’s rural areas.
“Sadly, like so many other journalists in Burma, Lazing La Htoi is being unfairly penalized for the simple act of reporting the news,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “He has violated no law and should be released immediately and unconditionally from detention.”