A documentation by Dr Hansjoerg Biener
Dr Hansjoerg Biener
created 0107, updated 0710
Comments and contributions are welcome. Material of this page may be re-printed but a complimentary copy of the publication is expected.
Just in time for the meeting of the U.N.
Human Rights Council in September and October 2006, Freedom House released
its annual report of the world's most repressive regimes. (www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=70&release=409)
Myanmar features among "The Worst of the Worst: The World's Most Repressive
Regimes" considered to have the worst human rights records in the past
year. In these eight countries and two territories, "state control over
daily life is pervasive and wide-ranging, independent organisations and
political opposition are banned or suppressed, and fear of retribution
for independent thought and action is part of daily life," says Freedom
Freedom House says it hopes the report will focus the U.N. Human Rights Council's attention on countries and territories that deserve investigation and condemnation for their widespread violations. The Council includes among its 47 members three countries profiled in "The Worst of the Worst": China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia. In June 2006, the Council replaced the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which had been heavily criticised by human rights groups for allowing repressive regimes to gain influence over the monitoring body.
Myanmar has been in self-imposed isolation since 1962 when a left-wing military coup overthrew the democratic government. Since 1962, media in Burma has been tightly controlled by the successive military governments. National broadcasting from Yangon which does include some 5 hours daily of minority languages is complemented by an Defense Forces Broadcasting Station based since 1962 at an army camp on the eastern edge of the regional city of the Shan State, Taunggyi. After some months off, Defense Forces Broadcasting Service returned to short wave in late December 2003. The station was using a new frequency of 5770 (ex 6570 kHz) 13.30-16.30 UTC and also 0130 sign-on.
While some sources tell that many refuse to listen to the government stations in favour of international broadcasting, others judge the programme contents as the usual mixture of information and praise to be expected from a military government.
Because of the independence wars especially of the Karen people there has been some clandestine broadcasting by groups from within the country as well as from outside since 1948.
Burma or Myanmar has traditionally been the target area of the international broadcasting services of her neighbours, All India Radio, China Radio International, Radio Thailand and the Voice of Malaysia. With the on going unrest as well as the geo-strategic location between India and South East Asia a number of major international broadcasters like BBC London (since 1940), Voice of America (since 1943) and NHK Radio Japan have maintained broadcasts in Burmese. More recently, the US doubled its external broadcasting efforts in February 1997 by establishing a Burmese service of their surrogate broadcaster Radio Free Asia.
Although Myanmar is a 90-percent Buddhist country and Christians make up only about 6 percent of the population, it should be mentioned that the Karen and other minorities are largely Christian and so both protestant international broadcaster FEB-International and Roman-Catholic Radio Veritas Asia have daily programmes in Burmese and minority languages broadcast on short wave from the Philippines.
In late 2003, rumours surfaced that All India Radio might consider closing the Burmese service after 50 years because of lack of journalists and lack of response from listeners.
On 8 April 2008, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) announced the winners of the 2008 David Burke Distinguished Journalism Award. RFA's Burmese service was rewarded for their coverage of "The Saffron Revolution." Throughout this period, the staff exhibited outstanding teamwork as they broke numerous stories and brought their audience the latest updates on the terror-filled situation as it unfolded inside Burma.
Voice of Burma
Democratic Voice of Burma started on 19 July 1992 using transmitters of Radio Norway, a gesture of Norwegian government support for Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner of 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi. The station had the support of Worldview which supports the activities of Nobel Peace prize laureates as well as the Norwegian Burma Council and the Government. According to the New York Times, 19 July 1992, Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Egeland said in an interview: "The Norwegian Government has decided that we would do whatever we could and intensively as we can to help the democratic organizations of Burma."
Worldview International also helped establish Voice of Tibet (PR China) and Radio Kudirat International (Nigeria). According to the website of the NGO worldview, "The goals and objectives of DVB as originally drafted are:
Voice of Burma
P.O Box 6720, ST. Olavs Plass, 0130 Oslo, Norway
tel - 47 22 86 84 86, fax - 47 22 86 84 71
email - firstname.lastname@example.org
14.30-15.30 UTC 15480 kHz (Almaty 200 kW, 131°), 17495 kHz (Madagaskar 250 kW, 55°)
23.30-00.30 UTC 5955 kHz (Jülich 100 kW, 70°)
years Voice of Democratic Voice of Burma
On 19 and 20 July 2002 the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) commemorated its 10th anniversary by a two day conference attended by prominent Burmese journalists and free media experts. Vincent Brossel, the Asia-Pacific Director of the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres [RSF] said that there can be no freedom of media in Burma unless there is democracy. "The State Peace and Development Council has sent to jail a large number of journalists and writers who are supporters of the democratic movement. In Burma, at least 16
journalists are still detained. The future of press freedom in Burma is deeply linked with the future of the democratic transition.“ Since most of the participants were Burmese journalists in exile working for different Burma-related media organizations, they shared their experiences with each other and discussed possibilities for future cooperation among themselves.
After a decade identifying itself as a voice of the exiled National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, most of the team members would like to see the station as an independent body in future. "DVB has been working under the banner of NCGUB. Even though we function independently, many see DVB as a propaganda machine of the NCGUB. We want to broadcast only the reliable, fair and true news and information. We want to continue DVB to become as an independent media in future Burma. However, we will not deviate from supporting the cause of democracy", said DVB's Director Ko Aye Chan Naing. Dr Sein Win, Prime Minister of the NCGUB, said that he would discuss with his cabinet ministers regarding the matter. "Whatever it may be the outcome, DVB has to be the voice of democracy movement and gives credible information to the people of Burma", he added. (BurmaNet News 20 July 2002)
On 5 August 2004, a spokesman announced
a possible move from Norway to Ireland. "We at DVB feel that working from
within an EU country with a strong commitment to human rights and education
would be of even greater benefit to us," said Deputy Director Khin Maung
Win. "The people of Ireland have always shown great solidarity for the
plight of the people in Burma and we hope that an agreement can be arrived
at," he added on a visit to Ireland. DVB broadcasts an hour of programmes
twice daily into Burma, presenting the views of the opposition National
Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) and the Democratic Alliance
of Burma (DAB). Khin Maung Win said the radio had been operating from Oslo
for 12 years and they were grateful for the Norwegian government's support.
for Freedom in Burma
(US Campaign for Burma) Twenty seven music stars including U2, R.E.M., Eric Clapton, Avril Lavigne, Peter Gabriel, Coldplay, and Pearl Jam have released "For the Lady," a brand-new double CD set dedicated to freeing the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Aung San Suu Kyi and the 50 million people of Burma. "For The Lady" features unreleased material by R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Tom Morello's The Nightwatchman, Damien Rice, Lili Hadyn and Better Than Ezra. The album also features a song in Burmese written by a jailed student democracy activist. Proceeds from the CD go to the U.S. Campaign for Burma.
United States Campaign for Burma
1612 K St., NW Suite #401
Washington, DC 20006
P:(202) 223-0300 * F:(202) 466-5189
Radio Veritas Asia
Radio Veritas Asia, a shortwave radio station operated by the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, broadcasts in 17 languages throughout Asia, including Burmese (1978), Karen (1982), Kachin (1982) and Zomi-Chin (1996) which are spoken in Myanmar.
RVA's national-language service began airing on 13 November 1978. It features a mix of programs highlighting moral and spiritual values, and providing information as well as entertainment. Former RVA Myanmar Service coordinator Father Gabriel Htun Myint says that available Catholic literature on interreligious dialogue in Myanmar is the result of RVA programs aired during the last five years.
An estimated 600,000 people listen to the service. At recent fact finding tour revealed that listeners of Radio Veritas Asia (RVA) want more airtime and a greater variety of programs. This is what RVA's Myanmar- language program producer Ma Marlar found out when she visited Myanmar. At meetings in Mandalay (26 Dec. 2004) and Yangon (10. Jan. 2005) listeners requested more broadcast time and asked that broadcast avoid conflict with Myanmar-language broadcasts by BBC World Service, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America. Marlar met with 20 listeners at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Mandalay, 580 kilometers north of Yangon, and another 25 listeners at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Myanmar headquarters in the capital. According to the RVA producer, only half of those attending the meetings were Christians. Among the suggestions she heard was a request for more entertainment programs, including a "lucky draw" program to attract more listeners. (www.rveritas-asia.org/news/febwk2mynmr1.htm 13 February 2005)
Burma's Shan Groups
End Cease-fire with Government
Shan State National Army and Shan State Army agreed to join forces at base near the border with Thailand a few days ago Two of Burma's ethnic Shan rebel groups have joined forces - one breaking a cease-fire with the military government - as they step up their struggle for an independent state. The move raises fears of renewed violence in Burma if other rebel cease-fire agreements break down.
The Shan State National Army, or SSNA, and the Shan State Army agreed to join forces at a base near the border with Thailand a few days ago. The agreement between the two rebel groups ends the SSNA's decade-old cease-fire pact with Burma's military government. The SSNA accepted a cease-fire in 1995 on the condition that its troops could keep their arms. But Burma's military this year called on the Shan to disarm. In February, to add pressure, the military government arrested several Shan leaders and charged them with treason. At the ceremony marking the deal between the two Shan groups, SSNA leader Colonel Sai Yi said "peaceful diplomacy had failed," so the SSNA decided to work with the Shan State Army. The combined force will have as many 5,000 troops under arms.
Like many other ethnic minority groups in Burma, the Shan community has fought for an independent state since Burma gained its independence in 1948. Burma's military government had reached cease-fire agreements with about 17 of the country's rebel groups. Many of the agreements were reached in talks with officials led by former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt. He was ousted last year and now is under house arrest. Many regional experts say they fear the more hard-line government now in place may be trying to crack down on minority groups.
Debbie Stothard is coordinator for the rights group the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma. She says if Rangoon had released the Shan leaders, moderates would have stood by the cease-fire. She now expects rising tensions between ethnic groups and the military government. "It is quite possible that the ethnic groups may take the gamble and see which way the cards will fall if they take a stand against the military regime," she said.
Burma is under pressure from many governments, including the European Union and the United States because of its poor human rights record and its suppression of the pro-democracy opposition. Burma says it is trying to gradually move toward democracy and in the past year it has twice convened a national convention to draft a new constitution. The SSNA originally took part in the convention, but has withdrawn because of the pressure to disarm. (VOANews.com 24 May 2005)
Myanmar government blames media for
false coup report
A Myanmar government minister has blamed the western media, specificially the BBC, for broadcasting a false coup report on the country. A BBC report on 23 August 2005 said a change had taken place in Myanmar's top leadership. Earlier today Myanmar's Minister of Information, Brigadier-General Kyaw Hsan, said "That BBC news report can be found as linking with tripartite aboveground, underground and expatriate attack plan of internal and external terrorist destructive elements in collusion."
Citing a previous incident in 1988, Kyaw Hsan alleged that the BBC and other foreign media fueled unrest for spreading anarchy cross the country by broadcasting instigative, slanderous and fabricated news. Kyaw Hsan also charged that interviews with some politicians by other radio stations such as Radio Free Asia and Voice of America worsened the issue, and called on these politicians to be aware of "traps" when giving interviews. (Radio Netherlands Media Network 28 August 2005)
2006 Democratic Voice of Burma no longer
Aye Chan Naing, director of the Democratic Voice of Burma which broadcasts into the country from short waves transmitters in several locations says that the station is no longer being jammed by the Burmese govt. Naing says that these days even the military junta is making use of the station. "In the beginning it was risky to listen to the radio station and the govt would jam it, but not any more.
Gradually even the civil servants started listening to us, as it is the only way to get reliable information. Their own media will for instance never show Burmese historians in exile talking about the history of Burma in a critical way." (Radio Netherlands Media Network 22. February 2006)
2006 Radio Free Asia also in ethnic
languages of Myanmar
In late August 2006, US-based Radio Free Asia began reporting in ethnic languages of Myanmar. According to Soe Thinn, head of the programme, each non-Burman language is given a 5 min air time. The weekly news in Shan for example would be read out by Sai Yi Hpong and Nang Ye Hawm towards the end of the Friday evening programme (19:00-20:00, Burma standard time). The only other Shan news programme from an international broadcaster comes from Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) on Wednesdays (06:45-07:00, 21:45-22:00). In addition, there are about 10 community radio stations in northernThailand with Shan sections.
VOA and RFA Double
Broadcasts to Burma
The Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) are now broadcasting a total of seven hours a day to Burma in response the Burmese government's crackdown doubling the pre-crisis airtime.
Starting Sept. 26, VOA increased Burmese language broadcasts from one hour and a half to three hours daily and RFA from two to four hours daily.
„The Burmese people are starving for accurate information, both about the world's reaction to their struggle for democracy and also about what is happening in their own land. Our expanded Burmese-language broadcasts are more important than ever in satisfying this hunger," said James K. Glassman, Chairman of the Broadcasting
Board of Governors, the federal government agency that oversees both VOA and RFA.
A bystander to the demonstrations in Rangoon who was shot by soldiers remarked in an RFA interview, "The Burmese state media announced today that eight were wounded and one had died in the clashes. We can never know the true figure. They will cover up whatever death toll they can to hide the truth." VOA and RFA have a measured audience of some 20% of adults weekly in cities across Burma. In times of crisis, listening often spikes to levels twice the weekly rate. Programs can be heard on shortwave and medium wave in Burma, are rebroadcast on satellite and are available through the Internet at www.VOANews.com/Burmese and www.rfa.org/burmese.
Press release 27 September 2007
coordinated schedule (UTC) of Voice of America and Radio Free Asia in Burmese:
00.30-02.30: Sri Lanka 13820, Tinian 13865, Saipan 17835: RFA
11.30-12.30: Tinang 11965 15540 Sri Lanka 17775: VoA
12.30-13.30: Sri Lanka 9320, Tinian 13645: RFA
13.30-14.30: Tinian 9320 11540: RFA
13.30-14.00: Sri Lanka 9455: RFA
14.30-15.00: Thailand 1575, Sa So bis 15.30
14.30-15.30: Sri Lanka 9325 Tinang 11910 Tinian 12120
23.00-24.00: Udon Thani 6185 Sri Lanka 7430 Tinang 11980: VoA
Testimony by VOA Burmese Service Chief
Before Congressional Human Rights Caucus
In an appearance before a special session on Burma of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Voice of America (VOA) Burmese service chief Than Lwin Htun said that the situation in Burma is "anything but normal."
Statement of Than Lwin Htun Chief, Burmese Service, Voice of America Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Caucus: Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the current situation in Burma. I understand you would like me to stay focused on what is happening today and how I see the situation unfolding in the days and weeks ahead. Let me also mention that the comments I will make today reflect my personal views, and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.
To begin: the Burmese Foreign Minister at the United Nations General Assembly on Monday said, "normalcy has returned in Burma". The question I would like to ask is "what kind of normalcy" is he referring to? I am certain he does not mean to say Burma is "quiet".
Let's have a quick look at the situation on the streets in Rangoon and other cities to see if normalcy prevails. Several VOA reporters in the region and other news agencies report that the situation is anything but normal. Just this morning, residents in Mandalay, the second largest city in Burma, told us many monks who participated in streets protests were picked up at night from their monasteries. A Burmese news journal editor told us that many journalists were stopped on the streets and their cells phones and digital cameras were searched. Also this morning, Mr. Paul Paisley, a World Food Program official in Bangkok told us that merchants in the countryside could not transport rice and other staple food to the cities due to skyrocketing transportation costs.
The junta says only ten people have died (including a Japanese reporter). Diplomats in Rangoon are estimating as many as 100 may have been killed. But my "88" generation sources in Rangoon have already published the names of 138 people who have perished at the hands of the army last week. All of this reminds me of my days in 1988 when I was a student activist in Burma and the government was saying only 200 or so so-called "looters" had been killed but my colleagues and I knew for sure that over 3,000 peaceful demonstrators had died.
Of course the streets are now empty and the visible protests have been quashed. But the scene is not at all tranquil: thousands of heavily armed soldiers are on patrol, manning all the key intersections and important public gathering places like the holy Slue and Sheraton pagodas in Rangoon. These are the sites where many monks and ordinary Burmese were beaten up or gunned down during last week's demonstrations. Is a situation "normal" when barbed wire fences are everywhere? Is it "normal" for all intersections to be barricaded and for all people leaving and entering the city to be searched and harassed by soldiers? Why are so many shops and businesses still closed? Why are the classrooms in the schools empty if it is not because parents are afraid of sending their kids to school?
The top U.S. diplomat in Rangoon in an interview with VOA Burmese Service yesterday morning told us "it is quiet here; people are too scared to go onto the roads. We visited several monasteries and found so many of them to be empty and guarded by security forces blocking public access." In summary, the only truth in the claim of the Foreign Minister that Burma is back to normal is that it has resumed to being a country of fear. For too many years, fear has been the "normal" state of affairs in Burma. The second question I would like to address is whether all the dissent and the desire to change Burma to a democracy have all been ended. It is understandable that with such an extreme use of violence, people might be scared to continue their struggle so openly. The discontent of the people has taken deeper root than ever. They are suffering as much as ever before, if not more. Commodity prices are still as high as ever, if not higher. Plus they have fewer human rights than they did before this crisis. Their resentment is so strong that it is only a question of time before it erupts again in some as yet unforeseeable way. My understanding is that monks do not need to protest in the streets to carry out the religious boycott they started on September 19. Let me explain this important point: the military is powerful because they have guns; the monks' power resides in their contributions to the religious life of every Burmese. The majority of the 400,000 soldiers in the Burmese army are Buddhists. They are going to want to practice their religion. The religious boycott means all the soldiers, the authorities to whom they report, and their families are no longer eligible to participate in Buddhist rituals. In other words, to apply Western terms to the situation in Burma, they will be "shunned" or "excommunicated" by the religious clergy. They will have nowhere to go to worship. The monks' goal is to punish the army for its actions. But I believe the boycott might lead to a split in the army, perhaps even at the top. Many thousands of soldiers regard Buddhism as their shield, as their protection against any kind of danger. Without their shield, they will be vulnerable and open to harm. They might not want to remain banished forever.
The result of the boycott might be a split in the army. In the past few days we have heard of troops refusing orders to shoot or beat monks.At the height of tension in the first week, sources close to the Army said the number two general, General Maung Aye, had been telling his close subordinates to exercise leniency. Sources also suggest several Army commanders may have been arrested for being too lenient or refusing to carry out the orders of General Than Shwe. The religiousboycott might, therefore, in my opinion, further exacerbate the fissures that already exist inside the military. Both First Lady Laura Bush and Chairman Lantos last week encouraged the soldiers to think about their actions. Mrs. Bush called on them not to shoot the demonstrators.
Chairman Tom Lantos added to this point by encouraging Burmese Army leaders who want to side with the democracy movement to choose this particular time to make their move. He said it would be a turning point in history if they did so. What can the international community do? At the government-to-government level, everyone is waiting to see the results of UN Special Envoy Gambari's discussions with General Than Shwe and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this week. It was good that he was allowed to see both of them and engage in a form of "shuttle diplomacy". But so far there is not even the slightest hint of compromise on the part of the junta. The Burmese Foreign Minister's speech to the United Nations confirmed that Burma will not heed the international community and will continue to seek its own path, no matter what. This is what is meant by the so-called "road map to democracy". Mr. Gambari was even shown a public rally by supporters of the constitution drafted by the junta. There seems to be little or no hope that the junta will ever respond to the type of international pressure that has been brought to bear so far. Not even the United Nations makes a difference or even a small dent in the determination of the Burmese generals to ignore world opinion. Any effort on their part to "spin" international opinion by offering talks, visits or other window dressing designed to mislead everyone will not lead to change. For this reason, the US government has announced that it will intensify sanctions and has called on other key players - the EU, ASEAN, China and India - to join the effort to bring democracy to Burma. Meanwhile Burma cannot expect China to defend it as staunchly as usual against increasing international pressure. The junta will surely feel more and more pressured and isolated. At the grass roots level, although the events in Burma were so ugly, they generated tremendous international attention and sympathy.
The whole world was shocked by the violence. Fortunately, the world's media was able to effectively communicate this sympathy and solidarity to the people of Burma. Not only international broadcasters but also famous newspapers, internet blogs, celebrities, religious leaders and millions of ordinary people around the world found ways to reach out and touch the people of Burma last week. What we are doing at the Voice of America is to keep this communication going. We tell the world what is happening inside Burma. And we do our best to let all Burmese citizens know that they are not alone. We are proud to be able to empower the people of Burma with accurate news about how the world is responding to events inside Burma. We feel our reporting sustains the hope that they need to keep alive so that when their day finally arrives, they will prevail.
of Burma producing extra satellite programmes
As a result of the crisis in the country, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) increased its output. ”We normally broadcast two hours every day on shortwaves but at the moment, in addition to that, we also broadcast daily by satellite,” said the station’s deputy director Khin Maung Win in an interview. On 28 September, Democratic Voice of Burma started almost full time satellite broadcasting. The programmes are aired 1730-1630 Burma Standard Time from Asiasat 2 (Frequency 4000 MHz, Symbol Rate 28125, audio bit 2314). The programmes will include discussions, talks, songs, and rebroadcasting of DVB’s normal programmes.
According to Khin Maung Win, Norway and Denmark have just agreed to donate up to one million kroner (USD 180.000) of “emergency aid” to DVB, in addition to the 15.5-million-kroner (USD 2.8-million) annual budget funded by the Scandinavian countries, Netherlands, Ireland and the United States. Including the weekend television programmes that it started running two years ago, the station claims to have a total audience of 20 million people. (Democratic Voice of Burma 28 September 2007)
Burma's leaders blame Westerners.
The ruling military in Burma lashed out at Western powers and foreign media today for stirring up recent protests that were put down in a brutal crackdown. The state-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper described protesters, who continue to be hunted down, as "stooges of foreign countries putting on a play written by their foreign masters". In what is now a daily staple of the government press, the newspaper said 30,000 people gathered at a sports ground in Chin State yesterday to support the regime's national convention and forthcoming constitution. It accused "big powers" and radio stations - the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia - as being behind the demonstrations, which were brutally put down by the junta to condemnation by nations around the world. Reports from Burma indicate the crackdown on dissidents is continuing underneath a seemingly calm surface. A Thailand-based exile group said a Burmese opposition party member had died during interrogation.
Dr. Hansjörg Biener
c/o Lehrstuhl Evangelische Religionspädagogik der Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg,
Regensburger Str. 160, DE-90478 Nürnberg