Time for Burma Exiles to Go Home? (Page 2 of 2)

One opposition figure who returned to Burma during military rule was Nyi Nyi Aung, another 1988 student protestor. He was arrested and jailed for several months in 2009 after returning to Burma to visit – accused by the Burmese authorities of attempting to foment an uprising – and was only released after heavy U.S. pressure. Now in the United States, he told The Diplomat that any exile return should involve an “official announcement by law that exile democratic forces can come back to work freely for democratization, to participate in the process of transnational justice.”

But Burma’s overseas media groups are eyeing a shot at their home market, and may be among the first exiles to return home. For many years, organizations such as Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), The Irrawaddy and Mizzima have offered exile operated, Burma-focused news, filling a gap created by Burma’s draconian censorship laws and restrictions. Exile media has faced restrictions of its own, not being permitted to operate in Burma and with correspondents inside Burma who have had to work undercover for fear of arrest. Exile groups also face funding cuts, as European donors shift money inside Burma, a situation not helped by a recent corruption scandal at DVB, whose footage of the 2007 Saffron protests won the organization global plaudits.

Still, 13 DVB reporters were among the hundreds of political prisoners freed in last week’s high-profile amnesty, and one, Sithu Zeya, a video journalist who was given an 8-year sentence after attempting to photograph the site of explosions in Rangoon during the 2010 Buddhist water festival, spoke with me by telephone just after his release. “I’m very pleased to be free and that my father is also free,” he said. Sithu’s father, U Zeya, was also freed after being jailed for 13 years for working clandestinely with his son for DVB.

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Such oppressive laws are about to change, believes Sein Win, managing editor of Mizzima. “I visited Burma last week,” he told The Diplomat, speaking by telephone from Chiang Mai. “It was the first official visit by Mizzima to Burma since we founded in 1998.”

Sein Win confirmed that he discussed the possibility of opening a Mizzima office in Burma with the country’s Ministry of Information. “We’ll wait for the publication of the new press law, maybe in February or March,” he said. “I’m hopeful they will abandon the censorship board.”

“I think all the Burmese exile media are now trying to work in Rangoon and inside the country.”

Simon Roughneen is a Southeast Asia-based journalist. He writes for the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Asia TimesThe IrrawaddyISNSunday Business Post and others.

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