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Burma: Amnesty turns to the power of radio

New financial appeal launched to supply radios to people in Burma

There is no doubting the power of radio – those are the words of Amnesty International – who are today launching a major new financial appeal to supply thousands of radio sets to the people of Burma.

The south-east Asian state has one of the world’s worst human rights record  and the aim of the appeal is to increase the Burmese people’s access to information from independent media.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, explained the reason behind the appeal, called Break the Silence. She said:

“We have spoken to many Burmese groups and they have all said the same thing: ‘Independent information is vital and radios are the key’.

“This is a country where torture is endemic, forced labour is common and the censorship of the media is almost total.

“Outside of the main cities there are few radios – and the ones that exist act as magnets for a population eager to hear the real news.

“Amnesty International want to make it easier for people to tune in. To help we are asking the public to donate via so that we can buy as many radios as possible, and make sure they will reach people who will benefit from this most simple yet useful of communication tools.”

Kate Allen added:

“Freedom of speech and expression are both fundamental human rights. Yet, in Burma, the country’s most famous comedian Zarganar is currently serving 35 years in prison for speaking out against the regime. While Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the country’s last elections in 1990 and celebrates her 65th birthday on Saturday, has spent a total of 15 years under house arrest since 1989.”

The Burmese government uses draconian censorship laws to tightly control the flow of information in the country. Journalists who report news and views independently of the government risk harassment, arbitrary arrest, detention and even torture. At least 40 journalists are currently imprisoned in Burma.

Despite the severe restrictions placed on access to information in Burma, media organisations in exile are able to broadcast directly into the country. These broadcasts are a vital source of independent information for people in Burma, especially in a year when the government prepares to hold elections for the first time in two decades.

Amnesty International today acts in solidarity with the many brave independent journalists who work at great personal risk to provide uncensored news to the people of Burma.

At Amnesty International’s recent Media Awards, the prestigious Special Award for Journalism Under Threat was given to independent media workers in Burma. This was an unprecedented move as the award is normally dedicated to only one individual.

Tomorrow (18 June) – the day before Aung San Suu Kyi’s 65th birthday – BBC World Service will be broadcasting a special programme about the Nobel Peace Prize Winner into Burma at 4am. The programme will be aired in the UK on BBC Radio 4 at 11am.

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