No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices)

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We lost communication because they did not have mobile phones or even landlines. Higher taxes, higher cost of living and more government oppression. People are not innocent as before. They only care how to make money to survive. They have no time to think about politics and social issues. I don't want to live in Burma," he ended with a sigh. Education in Burma is a joke.

The year after I graduated from high school, in , another student demonstration broke out in the streets.

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The government beat up students and shut down the schools nationwide. The beautiful and historic Rangoon University, where all Rangoon students dreamed of attending, was closed for five years and has still not completely reopened. Government propaganda states that Burma is a free country and that its people are living in harmony. But it's not true. The Shan ethnic group hates the dominant Burmese. The Karen ethnic group despises the Burmese too. They have good reason.

The military government kills thousands of ethnic minority people and steals and destroys their land. I wish there was no hate between the Burmese and other ethnic minority groups. The regime has created the tensions and animosity for its own purpose: to rule the country forever. However, government propaganda does work in some ways.

I was ignorant of the regime's atrocities until I worked in exile in Thailand. I met with human rights activists, and I learned more and more about these burning issues -- landmines, damming of rivers with no regard for the environment, use of forced labor and forced relocation. I felt good about working as part of the Burmese democracy movement and for freedom and human rights in my country.

But I realized I needed more education and more experience to support my country in the future. It has also been getting more and more difficult for Burmese exiles to live in Thailand.

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Now I am with my love and hope to gain higher education to support the democracy and freedom movements inside and outside of Burma. He now lives in Los Angeles. I left Burma in after the uprising, when I was 26 years old, two years after my mom passed away.

The currency was devalued, and we couldn't use any of our existing money. We cashed out all our investments and gold to pay for my mom's hospital care. By the time of the uprising, I was working at Rangoon University as a tutor while I was studying for my master's degree. I was fired from the university for taking part in the demonstration and for refusing to sign their agreement and provide them with the names of the student leaders.

But I kept on helping the students and the people who were homeless. I was put on a list of people to be arrested. I was hiding in many different places but finally managed to leave Burma to study in Japan. I got political asylum to the United States in I had to struggle with Japanese emigration before I left Japan. The situation in Burma has never been good, but recently there has been some peaceful movement in Burma -- people wearing a white shirt to support the democracy movement or religious groups praying at the monasteries or churches or mosques.

This is an improvement. It hasn't changed the situation yet, but it helps to stimulate the people and gets attention in the international media. To my surprise, a lot of people participate in these movements. I really bow to these brave people. I think in the very near future the regime will change. The whole of Asia is rising, and Burma cannot be left alone. What inspired me most when I went back to Burma two years ago is the people's spirit. They never give up. We hope that Aung San Suu Kyi will be still alive when we get democracy.

I left Burma in I was The United States granted me political asylum in , which is when my daughter and husband came here. Although our family was above the middle class, we could see what the future would be like for Burmese people. Education could not guarantee a job. Besides which, we could not continue to do our business, since all private companies were nationalized in My father was sentenced to three years in prison, and almost all of his business was nationalized. My mother, my eight siblings and I met with many local authorities and urged them to release my father and not to seize our residence at Ye.

Whenever we visited the prison, we were filled with sadness and resentment when we saw our dad in prisoner clothes. He was not allowed to read books, newspapers or letters; my mother wrote micro letters on a cigarette and gave it to my dad via prison workers. Of course, this was illegal and involved bribes. Ever since , my father has encouraged his children to leave the country. My brother visited Malaysia and Thailand in Eventually, he went to Singapore and from there started to work on a foreign ship. I visited Thailand in and then left for Japan to study international law.

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My elder brother who stayed in Burma was imprisoned twice, once for two months, the second time for 13 years. In those days, Rangoon was a prosperous and fairly cosmopolitan Southeast Asian capital. Everything changed in , when General Ne Win seized power and imposed the "Burmese Road to Socialism," a policy designed to isolate the country from outside influences.

One of his first moves was to nationalize all newspapers and establish a Press Scrutiny Board to impose strict censorship on all forms of information. The board remains fully active today. A public relations offensive of sorts has been underway since then, largely directed by the Office of Strategic Studies OSS , a think tank run by Lt. Khin Nyunt, head of military intelligence and effectively the junta's third-ranking member.

But the repressive mechanism remains essentially unchanged, and efforts to paint a picture of economic vitality under the new dispensation have not prospered. In March , Khin Nyunt explained the regime's press policy to an audience of Information Ministry staffers. In practice, of course, this means that the regime sets the agenda, determines most news content, and only allows "safe" subjects to pass the censors.

As a result, local journalists are reduced to writing tame lifestyle and business features for a range of anodyne weekly journals and monthly magazines. Occasionally, some try to push the envelope by inserting veiled political references into their copy. When their efforts are censored, they often pass manuscripts around to one another or share banned magazines they have managed to save from the scrap heap. A retired journalist who spent long years in prison, sacrificing health and career in the process, went out of his way to assist CPJ in meeting some of his colleagues and friends, a risky proposition in Burma.

A younger journalist with a university degree in urban planning spent a long day driving CPJ's reporter around Rangoon. About an hour outside the city center, he stopped at one of the "satellite towns" constructed after the anti-government uprising of as a way of emptying central Rangoon of the urban workers who helped swell the ranks of demonstrators. People are sad. There is a lot of drinking. Could he ever write about this? I come here sometimes to talk with the people, but it is very dangerous for them to speak with outsiders.

Anyway, it will never be published. Streets of terror. In there was a popular uprising against the semi-socialist dictatorship of General Ne Win.

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The streets were filled with thousands of young demonstrators calling for democracy. The demonstrators formed street committees to try and govern a capital that had seemingly been abandoned by its government. Official buildings had been ransacked and the bureaucracy was at a standstill. Even customs and immigration officials were scarcely at their posts.

Numerous unofficial papers began appearing in mid-August as the uprising gathered steam and the military largely retreated behind closed gates. Even the doctrinaire state press joined the upheaval and started printing lively and uncensored reports. The daughter of the country's assassinated independence hero, Gen. Aung San, she quickly became a symbol swept up in the struggle for change.

But instead of negotiating with the emerging democracy movement, another set of generals seized power. A maelstrom of killing ensued over the following days as machine guns swept the streets of protesters, leaving thousands of corpses in their wake. The underground and independent newspapers were immediately closed following the coup.

Many of the journalists involved in Burma's brief flirtation with press freedom fled to exile in neighboring Thailand or joined the underground resistance. Others were rounded up and jailed in the months and years following the crackdown. There was no independent Burmese press left to follow the story, and international media were largely transfixed by the Seoul Olympics. Fast forward. More than thirteen years later, Rangoon remains a city out of time.

The stunning Shwedagon Pagoda complex still glistens magically in the sun and the charmingly faded British colonial skyline has changed little. A handful of new buildings rose in the mid s to herald Burma's planned debut as an Asian economic tiger. A few new hotels were built or refurbished to cater to a tourist wave that never landed. The splendid century-old Strand Hotel, which was a shadow of its Victorian grandeur in , has been restored to its original glory.

But the occupancy? The freewheeling media debates of are long gone. They have been replaced by state newspapers such as the New Light of Myanmar , whose pages bristle with dour headlines about how Secretary Number One of the ruling junta met with the Fisheries Secretary to discuss the prawn industry. Opinion pages are frequently given over to multi-part diatribes against foreign reporters whose coverage is allegedly part of an elaborate global plot to besmirch the good name of the country.

Other matters of national importance are also off limits.

Series: Year in Review 2018

In the mids, the government conducted a sustained military offensive against several insurgent ethnic minority forces based in northern Burma. The local press ignored the story completely until the regime announced a series of negotiated settlements with purported minority representatives. Burma is a global center for the narcotics trade, but the problem is not covered except for government pronouncements. Former warlord Khun Sa is wanted for drug trafficking outside Burma. He is said to live in Rangoon, but the fact cannot be mentioned in the domestic press.

A severe AIDS crisis is spreading rapidly, according to international experts, but there is little independent reporting allowed on the issue and all domestic coverage must follow the lead of the government. The issue of forced labor, which made Burma a virtual pariah state in the eyes of the International Labor Organization ILO , is rarely a subject for media discussion, even though the junta is now allowing ILO representatives to monitor the issue.

Outside information. There is no public Internet access in Burma, apart from a handful of expensive e-mail accounts that pass through a central military server where messages can be delayed for hours while the censors read them. Fax machines must be licensed, and it can take years to obtain a permit to carry a cellular phone. State television is a joke. Satellite television is available in foreign homes and hotels, but few Burmese can afford it. Tattered copies of foreign newsmagazines are sold as virtual contraband from street stalls.

For a premium, passing motorists can also buy smuggled week-old copies of the Bangkok Post and the Nation , both English dailies from neighboring Thailand. The papers are hawked by skittish newsboys who keep a watchful eye out for the police. Hungry for news, people keep track of the world on tiny short wave receivers, hiding them from authorities and listening only in the privacy of their homes.

Foreign journalists are generally barred from living in Burma. The international press corps in Rangoon consists of a single correspondent from the Chinese state news agency Xinhua. Foreign reporters must apply for special journalist visas to enter the country, along with a "Permit to Conduct Journalistic Activities. In recent months, perhaps because of the ongoing talks with Suu Kyi, some foreign correspondents have found it easier to enter Burma. The PR-savvy OSS has organized press junkets to Burma in order to promote tourism and publicize the regime's drug control efforts.

But all visiting reporters are followed and monitored by intelligence agents and it is almost impossible to interview Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for years. International journalists who write negative stories about Burma can be banned indefinitely. Bertil Lintner, a Thailand-based Swedish reporter for the Far Eastern Economic Review , has been unable to visit for fifteen years, although he is an internationally respected authority on Burma who has published several books on the country.

A number of other Bangkok-based foreign correspondents are unable to obtain visas, perhaps because the regime thinks they know too much. Reporters who please the regime, on the other hand, have special access. For years, much of the information from inside Burma has come from foreign embassies whose staffers can field phone calls from reporters abroad with relative security.

International wire services must otherwise rely on Burmese stringers who operate under constant scrutiny. Wary of talking openly to CPJ for fear of government reprisals, a number of these reporters say they are regularly called in for questioning when their agencies run stories that are too critical of the regime. Overseas news editors sometimes change bylines on sensitive stories or add a Bangkok dateline in order to protect their colleagues inside Burma.

Several Burmese stringers told CPJ that they can work sources inside the military government but must be very careful how they report the information. Burmese censors are extremely wary of bad news. The September 11 attacks were ignored by state television and only mentioned in passing by government newspapers. Police confiscated contraband videotapes of CNN's September 11 coverage and threatened vendors with arrest. Even the news of junta leader Than Shwe's letter of condolence to the United States was delayed by several days. When the national soccer team was eliminated from the regional Tiger Cup tournament in the early rounds in late , the official censorship board quietly ordered newspapers to refrain from reporting the results.

They wouldn't let us do any work," said a reporter who covered the tournament, which was held in Thailand. Others are less relaxed about the restrictions. Voices of power. Private publications operate under a Byzantine regulatory framework.

No Time for Dreams

To obtain a publishing license, which can be revoked at any time, they must pay stiff fees as well as bribes to government agencies such as the Department of the Navy and the Drug Control Board. The licensing agencies generally appoint officials as nominal chief editors. These dull rags are almost exclusively vehicles for government propaganda. In addition, some 50 private weekly and monthly magazines are allowed to exist under strict government supervision. It is a corrupt, Kafkaesque system in which journalists must do constant battle with the regime.

That does not leave very much for us to publish. The only substantial change in censorship policy has been the gradual elimination, in the late s, of the practice of inking out offending pages or ripping out whole sections of magazines. But the current system is hardly an improvement. Under laws dating back to the s, each edition of every publication must be submitted in advance to the Press Scrutiny Board, an agency of the powerful Ministry of Information.

If the censors object to any portion of a story, the entire layout must be redone to remove the offending material. Even after the censors have cleared the magazine, they must review all changes again after printing. Magazines must frequently scrap entire print runs because of last-minute objections from the censors. All this creates a powerful incentive toward self-censorship. The censorship process is also said to be rife with bribery. Censors must often be bribed to clear each new edition for publication. Publishers say they must also turn over up to 20 percent of each print run to the censors, who sell them on the street.

Karen conflict

One editor told CPJ that his magazine and others even had to pick up the tab for a Press Scrutiny Board holiday junket in Corruption and censorship notwithstanding, some outside observers see the emergence of semi-independent publications as a hopeful sign. It is difficult to sustain even such tempered optimism in conversation with journalists inside the country. Two monthly business publications, Dana Prosperity and Myanmar Dana were launched in the s as part of the regime's drive to privatize state-owned industries and attract foreign investors.

These publications are qualitatively among the best in Rangoon, but they operate within very narrow confines. Under the radar.

The July issue of a journal called Sabai Phyu White Jasmine featured a cover quote from the Western social theorist Edward de Bono: "You can analyze the past, but you must design the future. Otherwise it may be no better than the past.

The editor of a fashion magazine told CPJ that the list of banned topics he had encountered included everything from deposed dictators such as Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia and Suharto of Indonesia to floods, plane crashes, and train wrecks. The board even spiked a local film critic's review of The Man in the Iron Mask. Because he quoted the Musketeer slogan, "One for all and all for one! Tin Maung Than, the editor of the journal, Thintbawa Your Life , fled into exile with his family in late Tin Maung Than got into trouble for circulating photocopies of a speech by a government official who criticized Burma's economic policies.

The military also watched him closely because he was once associated with Suu Kyi's opposition political party, an affiliation he gave up many years ago to concentrate on writing. Not much has changed since Tin Maung Than's departure. During CPJ's visit to Rangoon, one magazine was forced to delay publication after censors objected to a personal memoir that ran under the headline "Foolish Father, Foolish Daughter. No bad news.

No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices) No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices)
No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices) No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices)
No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices) No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices)
No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices) No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices)
No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices) No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices)
No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices) No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices)
No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices) No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices)
No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices) No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma under Military Rule (Asian Voices)

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