Indian government shutters Burmese exile-run news Web site

New York, April 17, 2007—After the forced closure of the New Delhi-based Mizzima News, an exile-run Web site popular for hard-hitting reports on neighboring Burma’s military-run government, the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Indian authorities to fully explain the move.

Approximately 20 Indian police and two municipal officials raided Mizzima’s offices on Monday and locked reporters out of the news agency’s facilities with sealed padlocks, according to a Mizzima editor who spoke with CPJ. During the raid, authorities claimed that Mizzima was illegally conducting commercial activities in a residential area, according to a Mizzima editor who was present during the raid. Mizzima denies that it was carrying out any commercial activities at the site, which is near other businesses and offices.

“We are outraged that a democratic country like India should send police into a news agency office and padlock its doors,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the authorities to explain why they have shut down Mizzima and to unseal its offices immediately.”

Established in 1998 by a group of Burmese dissidents, Mizzima is a non-profit news organization funded by various international donors to produce independent news on Burma-related issues. Its editor-in-chief, Soe Myint, was in Calcutta translating for ethnic Karen and Arakan rebels on trial for supplying weapons to Indian insurgent groups. A senior Mizzima editor told CPJ that Soe Myint’s involvement in the trial was one, but not the only, likely motivation behind the raid.

Mizzima also reports on India’s policy towards Burma. In recent years the countries have stepped up official visits and trade. Recent Mizzima articles have not been critical of the relationship.

No Mizzima staff members were arrested during the raid, but senior editors were requested to report to the New Delhi Metropolitan Authority on April 23. Earlier this year, Indian intelligence officials visited Mizzima’s offices and requested background information about certain staff members, according to a Mizzima source who spoke with CPJ.

Throughout the 1990s, India provided sanctuary to democracy activists and dissident journalists who had fled political repression inside Burma. A more recent shift in Indian government policy which stresses closer government-to-government ties between New Delhi and Rangoon has put the legal status of many India-based Burmese journalists who lack proper travel documents in doubt.