Myanmar journalists win ‘Golden Pen of Freedom’


HONG KONG, AP

Highlighting criticism of the Myanmar military government’s human rights record, the World Association of Newspapers awarded its Golden Pen of Freedom to two journalists imprisoned in Myanmar in dire conditions.

Aung Ko, an exiled democracy activist and actor, received the award Monday on behalf of jailed Myanmar journalists U Win Tin and San San Nweh during the opening ceremony of the association’s four-day annual meeting.

U Win Tin, 71, is a former editor of the independent Hanthawati daily newspaper and a founder of the National League for Democracy, which is led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He been imprisoned in Myanmar since 1989.

Kept in isolation in recent years, he has been subjected to beatings and was forced for a time to live in a former kennel for prison guard dogs.

Each day, U Win Tin is forced to spend his waking hours in silence, squatting with his head bowed and staring at the bamboo mat he sleeps upon, said Ruth de Aquino, president of the World Editors Forum, who presented the award.

San San Nweh, 56, is a dissident writer and poet and was the first woman to train as a journalist in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

She was imprisoned for 10 years in August 1994 for providing French journalists with anti-government reports and for providing information about the human rights situation in Myanmar to a United Nations official.

San San Nweh is a widow and her children have difficulty finding the money to pay for her prison rations, de Aquino said.

“It is a tale of terror,” said de Aquino, adding that both journalists are reported to be in ill health.

Myanmar’s ruling military regime has come under international criticism for its suppression of Suu Kyi’s party and human rights violations.

The military, which kept Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi under formal house arrest from 1989 to 1995, refused to hand over power to her party after it overwhelmingly won a general election in 1990. In the wake of the polls, it has harassed and arrested hundreds of party members.

“In Burma, everything is illegal,” Aung Ko said after accepting the awards on behalf of the imprisoned journalists.”The law in Burma is what the generals say it is. It can be changed from day to day.”

The World Association of Newspapers, which defends and promotes press freedom worldwide, represents more than 18,000 publications and its members include 67 national newspaper associations.