Burmese authorities detain freelance journalist

New York, October 29, 2009—The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemns and calls for the immediate release of freelance journalist and blogger Pai Soe Oo, who was detained by government authorities on Wednesday for questioning. 

Pai Soe Oo was arrested by six officials at his apartment complex in the former capital of Rangoon at around 9 p.m., according to a Mizzima News story that quoted one of the reporter’s housemates. Officials searched his home and seized one of the journalist’s notebooks, the report said. 

According to the exile-run Web site Mizzima, Pai Soe Oo is a former reporter with the Favorite and Pyi Myanmar weekly news publications as well as a blogger. He was also reportedly a member of the volunteer relief group Lin Let Kye (“Shining Star”) that was active in the aftermath of the 2008 Cyclone Nargis disaster that left 140,000 dead or missing and adversely affected an estimated 2.4 million Burmese, according to United Nations estimates.

Lin Let Kye was spearheaded by blogger and comedian Maung Thura, also known as Zarganar, who was sentenced to 59 years in prison in 2008 in part for communicating with exiled dissidents and giving interviews to foreign media that criticized the military-run government’s disaster relief efforts. Under intense international pressure, his sentence was reduced earlier this year to 24 years by a Rangoon Divisional Court.

The notebook seized in the raid of Pai Soe Oo’s home was believed to contain the names of Lin Let Kye members, according to Mizzima.  

Burma has been under international pressure, including economic sanctions from both the United States and the European Union, to back away from its authoritarian governance.

“Burma’s military government claims to be moving toward democracy, yet it continues to routinely arrest and detain journalists,” said Shawn W. Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Reducing international pressure should require demonstrable improvements in press freedom.” 

As part of a mass amnesty of 7,114 prisoners, Burma’s military government in September released three journalists—Eine Khine Oo, Kyaw Kyaw Thant, and Thet Zin—among an estimated 120 political prisoners. With Pai Soe Oo’s detention, CPJ research indicates there are currently at least 12 journalists still behind bars in Burma. International rights groups estimate there are more than 2,000 political prisoners being held often in abysmal prison conditions across the country.