The Committee to Protect Journalists has picked two imprisoned Burmese film-makers, a murdered American journalist, and two others as winners of the 2004 International Press Freedom Awards. VOA Burmese Service Khin Maung Htay attended the news conference where the winners were announced and filed this report.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is honoring five journalists, including two imprisoned Burmese, with the 2004 International Press Freedom prize. The award ceremony will be held next Tuesday (November 23) in New York.
The two Burmese, Aung Pwint and Thaung Tun or Nyein Thit, were arrested in Burma in October 1999 and have been imprisoned ever since. Both men were filmmakers, editors and poets, and both were sentenced to eight years in prison for making documentaries about forced labor and hardship in rural Burma.
In announcing the winners, Frank Smyth of the Committee to Protect Journalist, had this to say: "Both of these journalists started off with writing, in fact, as poets. Aung Pwint wrote for the alternative Moe Wai magazine. One of his most famous poems was about an ant -- a very stubborn one that fought againt all odds."
According to CPJ, Aung Pwint and Thaung Tun are among 11 journalists currently in Burmese prisons.
Mr. Smyth said, "In 1996, Burma's military government prohibited Pwint from making any more documentaries because they were too critical of the regime. So Pwint and Tun teamed up not long after. They decided to continue making documentaries at great risk to themselves."
Khin Maung Soe of VOA Burmese Service worked with Aung Pwint in Rangoon in the early 1990s where they co-produced a news video tabloid -- the Monitor -- the first of its kind in Burma. He remembers Aung Pwint well.
Khin Maung Soe said, "Aung Pwint was one dedicated journalist. He would devote his time 100 percent to the news video production to the extent of sacrificing his family life and other worldly pleasures. I am glad that CPJ has now recognized his valiant work over many years."
CPJ's Frank Smyth has called on the Burmese authorities to release the two journalists: "We call upon Burma to free these journalists starting with Aung Pwint and especially the seriously ill Thaung Tun."
CPJ has also selected for the Press Freedom Prize Paul Klebnikov, the American-born editor of Forbes Russia who was shot dead in Moscow last July, Svetlana Kalinkina, former editor-in-chief of the popular Minsk business daily, Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta, and Alexis Sinduhije, founder and director of Burundi's Radio Publique Africaine.