Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Burmese Exile Media on Alert after Crackdown Warning


Yesterday's Irrawaddy articleon the Thai Government's schedule crackdown on Burmese opposition groups based in Thailand. More information on the crackdown HERE.

A Burmese exile media organization in Bangkok has dropped its Web site news service “temporarily,” amid reports of a crackdown on such operations on Thai territory that carry material critical of Burma’s junta.

The reports surfaced last week and caused other exile media groups in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Mae Sot to lower their profile. There were warnings of possible raids by Thai police and immigration authorities.

The Bangkok-based media organization that dropped its Web site news said it had been asked by Thai authorities to close its office “temporarily” starting from last Friday. A spokesman for the organization asked The Irrawaddy not to identify it.

Since Friday, the organization’s Web site has been carrying a message saying that “due to security and technical changes we are temporarily stopping our internet page.” The organization is reported to be still working on its printed edition.

The unnamed organization and several other Web sites and publications run by Burmese exiles have played a key role in reporting on the brutal suppression of September’s demonstrations.

They have come in for constant attack by the Burmese junta, along with overseas-based targets such as the Burmese service of the BBC and the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma.

Zin Lin, spokesman of Burma’s democratic government in exile, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, told The Irrawaddy that its office in Bangkok had been warned by Thai authorities to adopt a “low profile.”

The NCGUB office in Bangkok was still functioning, he said. The headquarters of the government in exile are located in Washington DC.

“The Burmese state-media blamed the exile groups in Thailand for recent mass protests,” said Zin Lin.

Myint Wai, of the Bangkok-based Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that his group is also vigilant in view of the reports of a possible crackdown.

The TACDB’s operations are mainly focused on Burmese migrant workers, many of whom have no legal documents.

Reports of a possible crackdown have also been circulating since Friday among the several Burmese organizations and NGOs working in northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai province.

Burmese officials are rumored to have asked Thai authorities to close some offices linked to the September demonstrations in Burma. In the past, the Burmese government has usually used a friendly channel to pressure Thai authorities close to Burma to harass exiled Burmese.

A source at the Democratic Voice of Burma said the DVB’s office in Chiang Mai was still operating but was taking a low profile.

Previously, some Thai officials occasionally acted in cooperation with the Burmese regime, who complain that Thailand allows opposition groups to operate and demand they take action against Burmese pro-democracy activists in the country.

In November 1995, Khit Pyaing, a Burmese-language news operation also known as New Era was raided by Thai police, and a veteran journalist, Ye Khaung, and his wife were arrested.

In October 2006, a Burmese stringer working for the Oslo-based DVB was forced to leave his home in Ranong province, southern Thailand, after voicing concern about his safety.

Previously, prominent human rights organizations, politicians and US congressmen have reacted promptly when Thai officials raided Burmese offices operating in Thailand.

During the administration of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, several offices in Sangklaburi were forced to shut down by Thai officials. The crackdown prompted international outcry and condemnation.

The Irrawaddy has learned that US and western diplomats have also been closely monitoring the situation and the safety of Burmese groups living in Thailand.