Power Through A Lens – Interview with DVB

With rumours of the latest prisoner amnesty circulating like wildfire once more and the book getting its first airing in public (full details and photos to follow very soon I hope!) here’s a recent interview with Francis Wade from DVB about political prisoners and photographing in the pariah state:

Click to read the interview – Power Through A Lens

Advertisements

FREE THE VJs: Inside Burma’s Secret Network

Today on World Press Freedom Day the global campaign “Free The VJs” is launched by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB). Seventeen reporters for the DVB are incarcerated in prisons across Burma. Some are serving sentences of 27 years, arbitrarily jailed for the so-called crime of exposing the truth about the regime. Their work has included the documenting of scorched-earth tactics against ethnic minorities, the murdering of monks by Burmese troops, and the ineptitude of the regime following cyclone Nargis in 2008. The video-journalists, or VJs, have become a source of humiliation for the regime, which keeps nearly 2,100 political prisoners behind bars: among these are activists, doctors, lawyers, MPs and comedians.

The release of the VJs and Burma’s many political prisoners is a key prerequisite to democratic transition in the country, which in March swore in what it claims to be a new civilian government. Whether this government will overturn Burma’s distinction as one of the world’s most dangerous countries in which to be a journalist remains to be seen, but action must be taken now.

Please visit the official website FREE THE VJs for further details where you can support our campaign and help bring about the release of our colleagues imprisoned in Burma’s jails.

View photos from inside Burma’s the secret VJ network – CLICK HERE – taken clandestinely in the secret offices in Thailand and Norway

Undercover VJs at work in the secret offices

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES & DVB and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

The Activist & The Uninvited Guests

On March 23rd one of the foremost human rights campaigners for Burma, Benedict Rogers, was deported from the country. Stopped late the previous night in his hotel by military intelligence officers, he was questioned, searched and early the following morning deported. The official reason was because of the books and many articles he has written “give misinformation about Myanmar”. The news of his deportation has been widely reported in exiled media as well as most recently the New York Times but here he talks to DVB TV about the experience:

Interview with Ben Rogers on DVB TV. Copyright DVB and reproduced here with permission.

It was mixed emotions when I received his call just hours after his deportation from Burma – shocked but at the same time not surprised. Thankfully he was treated well and left the country safely. If he had been Burmese, we would now be reporting on his torture and subsequent sentencing to many years inside Burma’s notorious prison system. I have known Ben for many years and without doubt he is one of the most important ‘Western’ voices to speak and act for the Burmese people of all ethnicities. His advocacy work and campaigning is second to none, he has travelled to virtually every Burmese border, has written numerous articles and books including the biography of the despotic ruler of Burma, Than Shwe, that got him deported and whilst he was deported on this most recent trip inside Burma, it has not been the first time he has been inside the country to document Burma’s deplorable human rights situation. The authorities expelled him from Burma because of ‘misinformation’ he was telling the world. ‘Misinformation’ that is repeated again and again by both dissidents inside Burma who risk their lives to speak out and echoed on theirs and the people of Burma’s behalf by campaigners, experts and academics worldwide to not only counter state propaganda that so-called ‘disciplined democracy’ is ready to flourish but also to cast no doubt on the fact that this regime is guilty of human rights attrocities that must be stopped and must be accounted for. The regime continue to intimidate and arrest anyone who speaks out or acts in defiance of their rule. There is nothing disciplined or democratic with this totalitarian approach and by rewarding these acts with the removal of sanctions, like so many would now seem is appropriate to do, is incomprehensible at best and in reality is a likely death sentence for true democracy to have the chance to finally flourish in Burma. Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of democracy and cannot be allowed to be traded for a business venture to further line the pockets of a regime that has already raped it’s country bare.

The most important thing that this sorry episode highlights is that nothing has changed in Burma. New government or not and although ridiculed by many, the intelligence services still seek out those who they fear and you can underestimate them at your peril (not that Ben ever did – moreover his immediate and ongoing concern was for anybody with whom he had come into contact during any of his trips inside). The ruling authorities may have new clothes at best, but MI are still there and still watching. Nothing has changed in Burma. Nothing.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

“Yayzan Lan” A Documentary Film About Burma’s Political Prisoners

A new documentary film directed by Jeanne Hallacy and co-produced by the Democratic Voice of Burma and in partnership with the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) is due to be released in April 2011.

 

For Further details please view the official website

“Yayzan Lan” or “Into The Current” tells the story of Burma’s unsung heroes – its prisoners of conscience – and the price they pay for speaking the truth to power in a military dictatorship.

Using footage secretly shot in Burma, the film uncovers the stories and sacrifices of ‘ordinary’ people of exceptional courage and the leaders who inspire them. Former prisoner Bo Kyi and an underground team work tirelessly and often at great risk on behalf of their 2,100 jailed colleagues.

While they and countless others fight on, the dream of a free Burma remains alive.

The film will be screened at the FCCT club in Bangkok Thailand at the end of March 2011.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

New Year, New Hope and New Plans

The bells bring in 2011 and fresh hope in a new year, but it’s easy to feel stuck in groundhog day as another year passed with little movement towards any semblance of democracy or freedom in Burma. There re near record numbers of political prisoners and another journalist recently incarcerated hammers home the SPDC’s intentions for the future. Tell the world and pay the price. Bur no matter what threats and intentions they may have, they cannot silence the so-called ‘dissent’ that comes in the shape of defiance from those both inside and outside the country.
As 2011 starts to unfold our plans are well and truely underway like never before. We have been working very hard behind the scenes and there is excitement and anticipation in equal measures about the many journeys ahead. Two years later from the start of this project and we have photographed over 180 former political prisoners, travelling more than 55,000 miles to 6 different countries. The support for us and more importantly our message has been overwhelming at times and our thanks go out to everyone, but in particular our colleagues at AAPP and DVB and all those who cannot be named or mentioned. This year we will continue where we left off but there will be more diversification with new ideas and new projects that are in development. This blog will also become more diversified as all new work and projects will be run through here in one place. There is excitement and risk in equal measures but the stories must continue to be told. All will be revealed soon. The waiting is almost over…

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

No Change in Policy or Defiance as DVB’s Sithu Zeya is Sentenced

With the welcome news last week that 16 political prisoners have been released including 3 members of the ABFSU (Lwin Ko Latt, Han Win Aung & Kyaw Kyaw) comes the usual twist of fate for others less fortunate. Welcome news indeed, but it was no amnesty or relaxing in policy by the regime as yesterday it was confirmed that Sithu Zeya has been sentenced to 8 years in prison under Burma’s draconian laws – 3 years under section 13/20 The Immigration Act and 5 years under section 17/1 The Unlawful Association Act. It is likely this will be increased as we await further news over charges under the infamous Electronic Act that could add a further 20 years to his already unjust sentence.

Along with his father Maung Maung Zeya, he was arrested for the crime of photographing the aftermath of the bombing scene at Kandawgyi Lake in Rangoon during the Thingyan festival in April earlier this year. But it was whilst under interrogation by military intelligence that brutal torture he endured lead to his confession that he was a journalist for Democratic Voice of Burma and so was his father. This was his real crime, being one of the brave undercover journalists who risk everything to expose the reality of the SPDC’s crimes. The young 21 year old man now faces a life of continued torture in Burma’s dark prisons along with 17 other DVB journalists. Deputy Director of DVB, Khin Maung Win, confirmed that authorities had offered to free Maung Maung Zeya if he divulged the names of other undercover DVB reporters – the regime have made targeting the undercover VJs of DVB and other exiled media organisations a number one priority. But it is a policy doomed to failure and is as futile as that which the world continues to adopt in ‘waiting and seeing’ as an ever patient nation grows tired of it’s meglomaniac rulers and more people than ever before are willing to take the risks to expose the regime by becoming VJs themselves and joining the ranks of the many hundreds already at work undercover throughout Burma. In a small part of the world far from the darkness of Insein a candle will be lit tonight to honour Sithu Zeya and all 22 journalists jailed in Burma.

Defiance comes in all shapes and sizes and without the likes of Sithu and Maung Maung Zeya willing to take the risks involved the outside world would have even less knowledge of life behind this iron curtain. Whilst the numbers of political prisoners rise and fall in equal measures there will be no let up in the undercover journalists’ and activists’ quest to tell the truth no matter what the consequences. As Han Win Aung said on his release last Friday, “It doesn’t matter for how long they’ve detained us … how brutal they were, we will never be broken in spirit. Our beliefs are unshakeable. We will flourish under Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership for the sake of democracy and political freedom.”

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

Jumping for Burma’s Political Prisoners

Today, Waihnin Pwint Thon, daughter of jailed 88 Generation Student leader Ko Mya Aye and leading campaigner and activist in her own right, jumped higher and further than most to raise awareness for Burma’s political prisoners. Spurred on by a number of close friends and colleagues, she leapt from a crane 150ft above south-east London with nothing more than a large elasticated rope tied to her legs to raise awareness for Burma’s Political Prisoners. She also raised an awful lot of sponsorship money (you can still sponsor her here) which will not only go towards Burma Campaign UK and their campaign work for Burma’s political prisoners but also at Waihnin’s request a large percentage of money raised is going direct to the former political prisoners who have been forced to flee Burma and now live a stateless and perilous existence on the Thai-Burma border in the refugee camps of Umpiem Mai and Nupo and also in safe houses in Mae Sot and the surrounding border areas. There, their lives are in grave danger and today Waihnin played a small part that she was able to try to help them.

Below is a short video message to those former political prisoners from Waihnin and Khun Saing issued at her request.

As DVB VJs we were hard at work today and here’s one cut of the days events – the other cut will be broadcast on DVB TV channel soon.

On the Thai-Burma border the former political prisoners have no status for they are not recognised as refugees and face the very real threat of imminent return to Burma at any moment. There is no protection by the UNHCR. There is no work, no right to be there, no life. They have left Burma with nothing and often also leaving their families behind. The money raised today by Waihnin will go a very long way in helping them.

You can read a great recent interview with Waihnin here at The Irrawaddy where she explains her reasons for this jump as well as her recent work.

“I think your personal conviction is more important than which organization you are working for. For me, I wish to work in the struggle for human rights. I wish to see the people of Burma and all countries enjoying human rights and freedom. Since I believe that I am working for the good of the Burmese people, I have no special attachment to any particular organization.”

Her father would be proud of her efforts today in once again further highlighting the issue of Burma’s political prisoners. In doing this jump today she has raised a huge amount of money that will go a long way to helping the people of Burma and it’s current and former political prisoners.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

Norway Day 2: The Curse of the Dolphins

An early start this morning as it could be a big day. The Democratic Voice of Burma are one of the favourites for the Nobel Peace Prize along with Liu Xiaobo, the political dissident currently jailed in China for his lifelong peaceful struggle for freedom and democracy in China. We get to theoffice just after 7am and Norwegian TV NRK1 are already doing the first interviews of the day. The announcement to be made live on TV from here in Norway by the Norwegian Nobel Committee is due at 11.00am so a tense few hours to fill until then… well, actually no, it’s just another day in the office as TV and radio broadcasts need to be prepared but with more and more media turning up throughout the morning there is hope around that this time we won’t be undone by the dolphins (‘The Cove’ beat ‘Burma VJ’ to the Oscar – ed).


As the countdown to the announcement approaches, there are several film crews, photographers and journalists in the office waiting to hopefuly catch the moment that DVB wins the Nobel Peace Prize. Deputy Executive Director, Khin Maung Win, is interviewed live on NRK TV just before the announcement is made before all our eyes are firmly fixed to the TV screen while the watching TV and photographers’ cameras and firmly fixed on us. And the winner is… damn those pesky dolphins.

Liu Xiaobo, the  Chinese intellectual, writer, and human rights activist who called for democratic reforms and the end of one-party rule in China is one of the most deserved winners of the Nobel Peace Prize in years. He has served as President of the Independent Chinese PEN Center since 2003 but is currently serving as a political prisoner in China. On 8 December 2008, Liu was detained in response to his participation with Charter 08. He was formally arrested on 23 June 2009, on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.” He was tried on the same charges on 23 December 2009 and sentenced to eleven years’ imprisonment and two years’ deprivation of political rights on 25 December 2009. Now during his 4th prison term he is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, thus becoming the second detained Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. When is the world going to wake up to this?

As the world’s media slowly slip away from the office it’s back to work and just another day in the office, but naturally some reflection on what might have been. Just to be recognised as the front runner for such an award is an incredible achievement and shows just how vital the work done by DVB and all undercover journalists in Burma is. The rest of the day is spent documenting a day in the life of DVB and more meetings and planning, before heading to the airport to catch a plane to Bergen, where tomorrow I’ll be meeting former political prisoners who are now living there and hearing their stories. Win or bust the show must go on.

Norway Day 1: Norway & Nobel – A Perfect Blend

After a summer recess longer than even the politicians can manage, we are finally back on the road. A great feeling. Back doing what we do best. Not that we’ve just been sitting around enjoying the sun – far from it in fact, as the last few months have seen Amnesty International launch a major campaign for political prisoners using our work and saw us photograph the British Deputy Prime Minister. But all this time the really important work has been continuing in the background – can’t reveal what yet but one day we will. Justice will prevail.

The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) in Oslo, Norway

An early start as we’re Oslo bound (again) for a catch up with friends plus meetings at DVB before flying to Bergen on Saturday to meet with Ma Kaythi Aye, Ko Cho Cho Tun and the many other former political prisoners living there. A quick three day trip before the election to keep the pressure up and it started in the usual rush of near missed buses, trains and flights but we got here in the end. The only major hiccup was whisky. Not the blend – just too much whisky. But this time not a drop was drunk and my over exuberance got the better of me and as I strolled through customs in Oslo airport I was pulled aside and asked to explain what I was doing with 4 bottles of whisky? The simple answer “I’m Burmese” didn’t wash. A £100 fine and 3 bottles confiscated was not the start I was looking for. Now how are we going to celebrate winning the Nobel Peace Prize tomorrow?

DVB broadcasts TV and radio programmes back into Burma

We finally made it to the office and it was great to see everyone again. An afternoon chatting and planning and the usual friendly family atmosphere and just time for some relaxed shots around the office as the day unfolds – no portraits or work documenting today as we’ve already photographed the former political prisoners here in Oslo and at DVB last year. A relaxed evening spent with friends at Ma Thida’s apartment and her kind hospitality ahead of the big announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize tomorrow – another reason why we are here. DVB are one of the main contenders if the stories are to be believed and 19 years after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded hers it couldn’t come too soon for DVB. Naturally I am biased but it would be an extraordinarily worthwhile victory if it was to be awarded to them – a timely victory at the very least as the elections are now exactly 1 month away. I am lucky to be here and even luckier to be able to work with them. Keep your fingers crossed and tune in to the announcement live as a webcast on the Nobel website.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

Al Jazeera TV: Former Political Prisoners Need Urgent UNHCR Action NOW.

As we have reported in previous posts here and here, once again the issue of the former political prisoners forced to live a perilous life as stateless people on the Thai-Burma border needs urgent attention from the UNHCR now more than ever before. We have been working with the former political prisoners on the border now for a long time on this issue and our close friends, Aye Min Soe and Thiha, have appeared in an interview on Al-Jazeera about this issue:

The Best Friend have recently posted some of the documentation made available by the former political prisoners on the Thai-Burma border to the public to highlight this issue – Please download it and help us with this urgent issue.

We will be meeting with a number of human rights organisations in the coming weeks to raise this issue and fight to ensure that no-one is sent home after this sham election is done with. The political landscape will not be conducive to closing the camps and sending people home. Not now, not after the election, not ever until this regime is dealt with. Rhetoric from ASEAN and Thailand in contrast to this fact is exactly that. Rhetoric.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved.