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The Burmese junta has stepped up censorship and violence against journalists who are trying to cover the rare mass protests gaining momentum across the country, while deepening their own propaganda in state media, report Mizzima News, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), ARTICLE 19, other NGOs and Burmese exile-run news sources.

 Monks march through Rangoon on 24 September, protected by their supporters. Photo courtesy of "The Irrawaddy"

Protests that started on 19 August against soaring fuel prices have sparked the detention of at least 100 activists and a crackdown on the media and lines of communication. The authorities have repeatedly warned journalists as well as the thousands of Buddhist monks and nuns who have recently joined and led the protests - including the largest demonstrations in nearly two decades - that they would "take action" against them. In its latest effort to quell the growing demonstrations, Burma's military government imposed on 25 September a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Rangoon and Mandalay, according to local news reports.

Despite fears of a repeat of the state violence that happened during the 1988 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations, which left more than 3,000 people dead, demonstrators have largely ignored the threats.

On 22 September, in an extraordinary move, hundreds of monks marched to the house of Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Laureate and leader of the opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD). Suu Kyi greeted them from her gate, which was heavily guarded by police officers bearing shields, in her first public appearance in more than four years. She has been held under house arrest for 11 of the past 17 years. Today (25 September), Reuters reports that Suu Kyi has been moved to the notorious Insein prison.

Last week, some journalists were prevented from documenting the daily marches of the monks, which began on 18 September after the junta failed to apologise for injuring several monks at a protest in Pakokku. Three Burmese journalists covering a demonstration by monks in Rangoon on 18 September were arrested and questioned, and their cameras and/or memory cards were confiscated by plainclothes police, report Mizzima News and SEAPA.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the Burma Media Association (BMA), an international organisation of exiled journalists, noted at least 24 serious violations of the freedom to report news and information since the day protests started.

The junta has also used a range of measures to terminate the flow of information, including blocking websites and blogs and disconnecting telephone lines belonging to politicians and activists. YouTube, the popular video-sharing site, has been blocked since 3 September, while news sites such as CNN and Mizzima remain among the hundreds of sites banned.

According to BMA, a number of reporters have experienced either permanent or recurring cuts of their cell phone services by government authorities since 11 September. Around the same time, the telephones of 50 government opponents were disconnected to prevent them from talking to Burmese and foreign journalists about the latest threats against the demonstrators. The junta has also been tapping land lines of journalists and democracy activists since 8 August, say Mizzima News, SEAPA and BMA.

Meanwhile, the military government has stepped up its propaganda in state media and has ordered private media to only publish articles favourable to the government. Initially the authorities ordered a 10-day blackout on the protests in local news, but now news reports are allowed if they portray the demonstrations as a threat to national security, according to an informal Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) survey of Burma's local press.

Despite the numerous tactics, a new group calling itself the Association of Journalists and Artists has been set up to give support to journalists and artists sympathetic to the protests. According to BMA, the Information Ministry hastily reacted to the new group, demanding that all journals and periodicals announce they are not part of the association and are not interested in taking part in the protests.

Although world leaders, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and British Prime Mnister Gordon Brown, have warned the regime would be held accountable for any violent crackdown on protesters, Dr. Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19's executive director, says the international community has failed to bring an end to the dictatorship and restore human rights in Burma. "It is this failure, the product of a deadly combination of indifference, complicity, tactics, perhaps even loss of confidence that has allowed the regime to continue its oppression of the people of Burma and the unrelenting detention of Aung San Suu Kyi," she says.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the international community to rally for Suu Kyi's release and the end of Burmese repression as they did for Nelson Mandela's freedom and the end of apartheid; on the European Union to impose full economic sanctions and dialogue with regional superpowers China, India and Russia; and on the UN Security Council to adopt an immediate and binding resolution on Burma which includes proactive dialogue with the Burmese junta to secure the release of Suu Kyi and a process leading to the establishment of democracy.

An emergency petition in support of the peaceful protests will be delivered this week to the UN Security Council meeting in New York. Sign here:

Visit these links:
- IFEX alerts on Burma:
- Mizzima News:
- BMA:
- Democratic Voice of Burma:
- Free Burma:
- BurmaNet News:
- "The Irrawaddy":
- Reuters:

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