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Burma lifts suspension on two newspapers after protests

On Monday, the Burmese government lifted sanctions on two suspended publications only days after more than 100 journalists took to the streets in Rangoon and Mandalay wearing T-shirts with the message, “Stop Killing Press.”

burma-media-blackoutIt was a rare public protest by Burmese journalists confronting the government over the issue of freedom of speech and the press. Journalists have lately begun pushing the boundaries of greater press freedoms, partly in response to the government’s loosening of previous restrictions and statements by government officials.

Editors of the Burmese-language Voice Weekly and The Envoy told Reuters that the publications could resume publishing again on August 18. 

The government's Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), which requires media outlets to submit articles for approval before publication, summoned the editors on Monday and told them that their suspension would be lifted next week.

The journals had been told that the suspension periods were indefinite when informed of the ban last week and were asked to follow the regulations set down by the PSRD and the repressive Printers and Publishers Act enacted after a 1962 military coup.

The journals were suspended for failure to submit their stories to the government’s censorship board prior to publication.

The Burmese government is now in the process of writing a new media law that officials said would eliminate pre-publication censorship, and over the past year it has loosened its grip on the press as part of the surprising reforms in the country that for decades was ruled by a military junta.

However, press censorship remains and journalists have complained that suspensions are tantamount to intimidation. Snap Shot journal is now fighting a government-backed lawsuit for publishing a photograph of a woman who was murdered and raped in Rakhine State, an attack that is cited as setting off a series of sectarian reprisals in Rakhine State. The photograph had previously been published widely on the Internet.

Nearly 100 journalists rallied against the two newspapers' suspensions in Rangoon on Saturday ,and about 60 journalists protested in Mandalay on Sunday.

Journalists had planned to send a letter to Burmese President Thein Sein asking him to remove all censorship and to get rid of officials who did not support democratic reforms.

In Monday's edition, the Messenger journal blacked-out its entire front page and cited a line from the constitution that guarantees freedom of expression.

The Nation journal went a step further, uploading on Facebook what it said was a censored copy of its front-page story of the protest, which was covered with crosses in red ink.

The Voice is also facing a lawsuit, lodged by Myanmar's Ministry of Mines, after it published a report alleging graft by ministries under the previous government.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar, in an editorial on Sunday, called for patience and said that censorship would soon be abolished.

It said the country was still not "accustomed to the freedom we have not enjoyed before” and to “rush could ruin results.”

An example of more openness has been the publication of draft bills to be submitted to Parliament and more news stories about debates and questions and answers, which began appearing in June in government-run publications.

Ko Ko Hlaing, a political affairs adviser to Burmese President Thein Sein, said, “Describing the bills in newspapers suggests that the Hluttaw [Parliament] has transparency.”