A video journalist imprisoned for his work for Democratic Voice of Burma has been awarded this year’s prestigious Freedom to Create award for jailed artists.
Win Maw, also a prominent Burmese singer/songwriter, is currently serving a 17-year sentence in Kyaukphyu prison in westernmost Burma. In awarding the 2011 Imprisoned Artist Prize, the Singapore-based Freedom to Create group praised the 49-year-old’s courage and influence over young Burmese.
“He expresses the political views of the Burmese people with his music, which provides a rallying point for the masses during the numerous political upheavals in Myanmar [Burma],” a statement on group’s website said.
“He is a leading exponent of artists giving voice to democratic movements for social change. Despite the risks to his personal safety, Win Maw continues to inspire young artists with his music even from prison.”
He was jailed in November 2008 on charges of breaching the Immigration Act and Electronics Act, which has been used by the government on numerous occasions to target journalists feeding footage to foreign and exiled media organisations.
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi hailed the decision to honour Win Maw with the award, but said that it was nonetheless “a matter of sadness for us because it means that our artists are in prison for their beliefs and their conscience.
“Artists help to create more beauty in this world, to open our eyes to aspects of our life that otherwise we may not have noticed … I know Ko Win Maw personally, and I’ve always appreciated his dedication to music.”
That sentiment was echoed by Géraldine May, who runs the Free Burma VJ campaign advocating for the release of Win Maw and DVB’s 13 other journalists behind bars. She said that while the award was a powerful recognition of the impact of his work, the international community must apply more pressure on the government to release Win Maw and all of Burma’s estimated 1,700 political prisoners.
“Hillary Clinton is due to arrive inBurmanext week, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon shortly after that,” she said. “Both the US and UN have called for press freedom in Burma and elsewhere, so they should use their visits to make clear demands of the government that they free these journalists.
“Burma will struggle to pass itself off as an emerging democracy until independent journalism, and indeed criticism of the government, is allowed to flourish.”
Yesterday it was reported that a senior government advisor had pledged an end to censorship in Burma, long derided as a press freedom black spot.
By FRANCIS WADE