Burma regime removed 2,000 names from its blacklist, but fears persist

Aung Htoo. (Photo: The Best
Friend International)

The names of some 2,000 people removed from a blacklist of foreign and Burmese nationals regarded as threats to the regime, among them Aung Htoo, former secretary of the Burma Lawyers Council (BLC, national focal point of Social Watch), was released by the office of President Thein Sein last week.

"Whether or not to go back and work inside Burma will be based on each individual’s and group’s view. The current situation in Burma is not clear — not clear enough to decide. An arrest could take place at anytime,” said Htoo, who lives in exile.

“Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min went back to Burma based on the president’s request to return. But he is in jail now,” added Htoo, referring to the political activist and lawyer who was sentenced to six months in prison for charges of contempt of court.
“So even though the names are removed from the blacklist, nobody can say how the government feels about what people did, regardless of whether it was done peacefully, honestly in the name of human rights, or for the nation,” he regretted, interviewed by Radio Free Asia.

The move comes days after Burma’s state-run media announced that 2,082 citizens had been taken off of a list of potential enemies of the state compiled by the country’s former military rulers. The list includes Burmese dissidents, foreign activists, journalists, historians, UN staff and the sons of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Among the most high-profile names are Sein Win, the leader of Burma’s government in exile; Aung Din of the US Campaign for Burma; Zipporah Sein, secretary of the Karen National Union; Cynthia Maung, founder and director of the Mae Tao Clinic; Bo Kyi, Tate Naing and other members of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners; Aung Moe Zaw of the Democratic Party for a New Society; Maung Maung of the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma; Khin Ohmar of the Network for Democracy and Development; Naw Lay Dee of the Burmese Women’s Union, and Htoo, of the BLC.

The list also includes Moe Thee Zun and Dr Naing Aung, former leaders of the All Burma Students Democratic Front formed in the wake of the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 1988.

While Moe Thee Zun was preparing his return, he told The Irrawaddy Publishing Group, founded in 1993 by a group of Burmese journalists living in exile in Thailand, that he welcomes the move, but called for the removal of all remaining names from the blacklist, which still includes more than 4,000 individuals.

“If the government removed us from the blacklist, it should also remove everyone else who is innocent,” he said.

Naing Aung, who left for Burma on Friday together with four other exiled activists —Nyo Ohn Myint, Thaung Htun, Aung Moe Zaw and Maung Maung— said that they will also raise this issue during their meetings with government ministers.

“Our travel is smooth and easy as we do not have to sign any of the same consent forms as others, so we will talk about it with the government,” said Naing Aung.

Among the foreigners listed were journalists Denis Gray of The Associated Press and Andrew Marshall of Reuters, veteran British journalist John Pilger and former CNN anchorman Riz Khan.

“Being taken off [the list] doesn’t mean much. The thousands of people who are still blacklisted interest me more,” said Marshall when contacted by The Irrawaddy. “Who are they and why are they still regarded as enemies in reform-era Burma?”
Marshall was detained and deported in 2008 for secretly reporting on Cyclone Nargis. Even though his name has only now been officially removed from the blacklist, he said he has visited Burma half a dozen times since last November, including a trip when he was invited back to cover the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Other foreigners removed from the list are David Scott Mathieson from Human Right Watch, Australian professor Desmond Ball, and Christina Fink, the author of “Living Silence,” a book about life under military rule in Burma.

John William Yettaw, an American who trespassed on Aung San Suu Kyi’s property in May 2009, earning her an extension of her term under house arrest, was also removed from the blacklist.

Around a third of the 2,082 people were lecturers, doctors, business people and activists inside the country.

One female university professor who spoke on condition of anonymity said that she didn’t even realize that she was on the list. “I resigned from my position before the end of my five-year contract, so maybe that’s why I was on the blacklist, even though I paid a fine for breaking the contract.”

People inside the country who are on the blacklist are not allowed to get passports to travel outside of country —a problem some 88 generation student leaders are now facing.

More information
Burma Lawyers Council: http://bit.ly/bGIgOL

The Irrawady: http://bit.ly/OBvQPf
Radio Free Asia: http://bit.ly/QZArXF