By MIN LWIN
Two American journalists who were deported from Burma last week said that they had no idea why they were arrested and put on a plane to Bangkok, but local officials told them that they were acting on orders from Naypyidaw.
In a statement issued on Monday, the two journalists, Jerry Redfern and Karen Coates, said that they were suddenly taken into custody last Wednesday after they finished teaching workshops on feature writing and photography in Mandalay.
According to the statement, they were deported to Bangkok the following night after being escorted to Rangoon by train, despite already having air tickets to the former capital city.
The pair were taking part in a program organized by the American Center in Rangoon and approved by the Scrutiny Board—the Burmese regime’s censors—and the Special Branch of the police.
The American and British embassies have long been active in providing special training programs in military-ruled Burma. Burmese officials closely monitor students who take part in workshops and other training programs on offer at the foreign embassies, and dissidents say that the regime plants informers among the trainees.
In their statement, the two journalists said that they had heard numerous rumors about why they had been deported, but were given no explanation by the authorities. They said they were not questioned or searched, but simply told that they had to leave the country.
In response to speculation about possible reasons for their deportation, they denied that they were working for the CIA and said that they had no connection to the American man who allegedly swam across Inya Lake to the home of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
This was not the first time that the Burmese junta has pulled the welcome mat out from under the feet of foreign journalists. Reporters are routinely deported and blacklisted for meeting opposition figures or gathering information inside Burma.
Last year, BBC correspondent Andrew Harding was deported on arrival at Rangoon International Airport for visa violations after he attempted to enter the country to report on the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. Accorder to a Burmese news presenter, he was accused of possessing a “disguising tourist visa.”
According to media rights watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières, at least 10 foreign journalists have been forced out of Burma or banned from entering since Cyclone Nargis struck on May 2-3.