Burma: Government agents threaten journalist

New York, February 28, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns harassment and death threats by Burmese security officials against Maung Maung Kyaw Win, a senior reporter and editor at the Burmese-language Myanmar Dana economics magazine. The threats have prompted the journalist to flee the country, and he is now seeking political asylum.

Maung Maung Kyaw Win, 57, told CPJ that he was apprehended by military intelligence officials at a restaurant on December 2, 2005. He said agents questioned him about the help he provided a U.S. journalist in meeting with a political dissident recently released from prison.

Two armed, plainclothes security agents said they had been monitoring his movements, and they threatened “to make my wife a widow if I didn’t stop my activities,” Maung Maung Kyaw Win said. They demanded that the journalist remain in the capital, Rangoon, for followup questioning.

The journalist fled to neighboring Thailand that month, and his wife and daughter joined him 10 weeks later. Details of the threat have not made public until now, after his family was out of danger.

The journalist and his family have made informal contact with Thai authorities about their presence in the country, but Maung Maung Kyaw Win told CPJ that he feared possible arrest and repatriation because of his unofficial status in Thailand. Maung Maung Kyaw Win said that he hopes to apply for political asylum in a third country.

“The intimidation and harassment of our colleague Maung Maung Kyaw Win is the latest unfortunate episode of a brutal campaign against Burma’s journalists,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director. “Now that he and his family are safe in Thailand, we call on authorities there to ensure his security while his asylum request is processed.”

Burma is one of Asia’s most repressive countries for media. Five journalists were imprisoned for their work when CPJ conducted its annual census in December 2005. The domestic print media operates under strict censorship guidelines, and newspapers are required to print articles produced by the government. In January, the censorship board issued new regulations restricting interactions between journalists and foreign nationals, according to news reports.

Maung Maung Kyaw Win was a prominent member of the domestic press corps and served as a source for exile-run publications. The Burmese-language Guardian newspaper he edited was closed down by the authorities after the bloody crackdown against democracy demonstrators in 1988. He fled Burma for a time in the early 1990s to help translate into Burmese the popular book, Outrage: Burma’s Struggle for Democracy, which chronicled the crackdown on the popular uprising.

In 2003, Maung Maung Kyaw Win received financial assistance from the U.S. Information Service in Rangoon to translate former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s autobiography My American Journey into Burmese. He also wrote a regular personal finance column at the Myanmar Dana economic monthly where he worked.