We’re free to travel there, but in Burma, no one is free.
While our travel press may be freed to avoid publishing the truth about Burma, the media in Burma enjoys no such liberties. The regime's Press Scrutiny Board orders articles even obliquely critical of official actions to be deleted. Unlicensed possession of a fax machine or modem is punishable by 15 years in jail. There is no public internet access in Burma, apart from a handful of expensive email accounts that pass through a central military server where messages can be delayed for hours while they are read by censors.
Examples of censorship include:
• Banned topics include everything from deposed dictators such as Slobodan Milosevic and Suharto to floods, plane crashes and train wrecks.
• The September 11 attacks were not mentioned on state television and only in passing by government newspapers. Police confiscated contraband videotapes of CNN’s September 11 coverage and threatened vendors with arrest.
• When the national football team was knocked out of the Asian Tiger Cup in 2000, the newspapers were ordered not to report the results.
• A local film-critic’s review of The Man in the Iron Mask was censored because he quoted the Musketeer slogan: ‘One for all and all for one!’ The censors felt that ‘one’ referred to the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the ‘all’ to the Burmese people.
• While the population is unable to discover what its leaders are up to, their leaders are working hard to find out more about what their people are doing. IRIS Technologies is using Burma as a testing ground for its new e-passports which have biometric features. According to the International Herald Tribune, ‘The company specializes in providing smart-chip technology for governments to identify and track their citizens movements.’ What makes this contract particularly alarming is that the UN Special Envoy to Burma Tan Sri Razali is the chairman and 30 per cent stockowner of IRIS.
The Dirty List
The Burma Campaign recently released a ‘dirty list’ of companies still profiting from business with Burma’s repressive military regime, despite the fact that the country’s pro-democracy leader and Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly and explicitly asked them not to. The companies on that list are shown below.
Abercrombie & Kent
Airphoto International Ltd / Odyssey Guides
Andrew Brock Travel
Austrian Airlines / Lauda Air
British American Tobacco
Daewoo International Corporation
Diethelm Keller Group
Hutchison Whampoa Ltd
Highbury House Communications
Hunter Publishing / Nelles Guides
Japan Airlines / Nikko Hotels
Lion Mining Finance
Lucy Wayne & Associates
Mitsui & Co Ltd
New Horizons Travels and Tours Ltd
Oracle Energy Group
Scott Dunn Group
Sea Containers / Orient Express
Sri Asia Tourism Service
Standard Chartered Bank
Travel World Media Ltd
USI Holdings / Unimix
Willis Group Holdings
In the past consumer pressure has made several companies pull out of Burma. All these companies deserve your call. For more information on Burma, its regime and the companies that support it, and for advice on how you can help – including specific campaigns against BAT and Lonely Planet travel guides – contact the Burma Campaign.
The Burma Campaign, Third Floor, Bickerton house, 25/27 Bickerton Road, London N19 5JT.
Tel: 020 7281 7377; Fax: 020 7272 3559; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.burmacampaign.org.uk
KEY EVENTS SINCE 1948
1948 Burma gains independence from Britain under U Nu, following assassination in 1947 of Aung San, father of the current pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
1962 U Nu ousted in coup led by General Ne Win, who inaugurates the ‘Burmese Way to Socialism’, nationalising the economy, forming a single-party state with the Socialist Programme Party as the sole political party, and banning independent newspapers.
1974 New constitution comes into effect, transferring power from armed forces to a ‘People's Assembly’ headed by Ne Win and other former military leaders.
1988 On 8 August 1988 the Burmese military kills tens of thousands protesting government repression in Rangoon.
1989 The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) declares martial law, arrests thousands of people, including advocates of democracy and human rights, renames Burma Myanmar.
1990 In a general election Suu Kyi's NLD wins over 450 seats, 82 per cent of the vote. The Junta wins less than 10. The Junta ignores the result and Suu Kyi is put under house arrest for first time.
1991 Aung San Suu Kyi awarded Nobel Peace Prize but not allowed to collect it.
1997 Slorc renamed State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).
2002 Aung San Suu Kyi released after nearly 20 months of house arrest. On day of her release, military attacks villages in Karen State, burning down a hospital, a workshop for the disabled, a school and seven houses.
2002 The SPDC signs a one-year, $500,000 contract with US PR firm, DCI Associates to ‘normalise relations’ between the US and SPDC.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist February 2003