A year earlier, Nyi Nyi Tun, editor of the Kantarawaddy News Journal, received a 13-year prison sentence during which he was severely tortured. He was found guilty under article 505 of the criminal code which penalizes the dissemination of false information designed to disrupt public order. During his 7,000-day imprisonment he was literally treated like a dog in the true sense of the term: he was held in a cage normally used in kennels. He had no bedding, was deprived of food and sleep and denied medical care. For most of the time, he was held in solitary confinement. Many journalists who also worked under the pre-2011 junta fear a return to the Kafka-esque practices of the past. At that time, all news stories had to be sent to the Press Scrutiny Board at least a week in advance, which meant the news was entirely out of date by the time it was approved. Self-censorship RSF asks Germany to let Myanmar journalist Mratt Kyaw Thu apply for asylum RSF_en Organisation The junta decided to cancel the licences of five media outlets on 8 March and revived a pre-2011 practice: all the country’s privately-owned press organs were subjected to pre-publication censorship. Those that dared to publish a news item that had not been approved by the Press Scrutiny Board could be closed down immediately Tortured and ill-treated May 31, 2021 Find out more News Win Tin lost most of his teeth as a result of many torture sessions. He also lost a testicle in a botched hernia operation. He suffered two heart attacks while in prison. Access by the Red Cross to his cell was routinely refused. Today, most of the arrested journalists are held in the same prison. The noted journalist Win Tin spent his life campaigning for democracy and press freedom in Myanmar and paid a high price for it: 19 years behind bars. He was accused of being a communist and was imprisoned in 1989 in the notorious Insein prison in the suburbs of the main city, Yangon. As the crackdown increases in Myanmar, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) voices concern at the possibility that the new military dictatorship will resort to the terrible methods of persecution that were used against media and journalists by the junta that ruled from 1967 to 2011. News Record number of imprisonments This photo taken on 6 March, 2021 shows soldiers in a military truck, amid the night-time arrests of anti-coup activists and journalists, in Yangon (photo: AFP).In 1995, a memorandum was published defining what were considered “sensitive” topics. However, the concepts used in the document were entirely Kafka-esque. For example, “anything detrimental to the ideology of the state”, “anything which might be harmful to national unity”, “any idea or opinion which do not accord with the times”, “any descriptions which, though factually correct, are unsuitable because of the time or circumstances of their writing”. Anyone who failed to follow these rules could face seven years’ imprisonment. Supporters gather around the coffin of journalist Win Tin during his funeral ceremony in Yangon on 23 April, 2014 (photo: Ye AungThu / AFP).“Let us remember that, under Myanmar’s previous ruling junta, journalists were locked up in dogs’ cages,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Since the February coup, Burmese generals have shown all the signs of a return to the squalid methods they used to persecute journalists and media organisations for almost half a century, between 1967 and 2011. “The international community must be aware of the seriousness of the state of affairs the Burmese military is in the process of imposing and must take practical steps to prevent a revival of the Orwellian regime of the past. History cannot, and must not, repeat itself.” “On Monday we sent the changed version with last minute additions, and they sent it back in the evening. It finally appeared on the following Wednesday.” MyanmarAsia – Pacific Protecting journalistsMedia independence ImprisonedExiled mediaPredatorsJudicial harassment Follow the news on Myanmar May 26, 2021 Find out more News March 15, 2021 Myanmar’s junta used to lock journalists in dogs’ cages to go further In 2012, the editor of the daily 7 Day News, Nyein Nyein Naing, told RSF: “We used to send our articles to the bureau on Thursday, we would get them back on Saturday, and we would make the required changes the same day. Draconian laws Media outlets shut down Draft legislation on cyber security being prepared by the current junta, of which RSF obtained a leaked copy last month, is an ominous reminder of that memorandum. For example, it provides for the “interception, withdrawal, destruction or (account) closure” of any content on the Internet that may “cause hatred, or disrupt unity, stability and peace”. The text is version 2.0 of the 1962 Printers and Publishers Law. Help by sharing this information Thai premier, UN rapporteurs asked to prevent journalists being returned to Myanmar The rules prevented news organisations from tackling issues that were the least bit sensitive given the costs of making changes and reprinting newspapers and magazines. May 12, 2021 Find out more A demonstrator shouts from inside a prison van after being detained by Myanmar police during an anti-war protest in Yangon on May 12, 2018 (photo: Sai Aung Main / AFP). Receive email alerts A view of the infamous Insein prison, in Yangon (photo: Sai Aung Main / AFP). Police gesture toward protesters as security forces crack down on demonstrations against the military coup in Yangon on 28 February, 2021 (photo: Sai Aung Main / AFP).“I’ve already spoken with some junior journalists, who asked ‘what are we gonna do in the coming days? What kind of news are we writing under the military junta?’,” independent reporter Mratt Kyaw Thu told RSF. “So I told them ‘if you want to write the news, under the military, you have to be very careful. If you touch on politics, you can be arrested at any moment’.” Eleven years later, in 2021, the same article was invoked by the current ruling junta to keep a dozen journalists arrested since 28 February in custody, most of them in Insein prison. According to RSF figures, at least 20 journalists were held in Insein prison at the time the previous junta was dissolved in February 2011. The correctional centre, built by the British, had become a symbol of repression by the military which used it for physical and psychological torture. News US journalist held in Yangon prison notorious for torture Against this background, self-censorship was the rule. It covered all topics, even the most neutral or trivial “bad news” stories such as natural disasters or the defeat of the national soccer team. This was based on the 1962 Printers and Publishers Law which allowed the Press Scrutiny Board to amend, ban or destroy any content to which it took exception. MyanmarAsia – Pacific Protecting journalistsMedia independence ImprisonedExiled mediaPredatorsJudicial harassment When the former junta was dissolved in 2011, Myanmar was ranked 169th of 179 countries in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by RSF. In 2020 however, it lies in 139th place of 180 countries. The government faces the strong possibility that it will fall back into limbo in the Index if the generals in charge continue their headlong rush into repression. Sentences were severe. In 2010, the blogger-monk Oakkan Tha was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for “anti-electoral activities” when all he did was send information about the election taking place to the Thailand-based Burmese outlet Mon News Agency.
I’m not totally sure I’d be around to write this now if, before setting out on a backpacking trip last January, I hadn’t recently binge-listened to survival podcasts. The message repeated during each episode in ominous, Rod Serling-like tones: it’s seldom one poor choice that leads to wilderness tragedy but a whole series of compounding follies.Heading out underprepared had been my first bad decision. Continuing on by way of the steep, snowy, icy, boulder-strewn trail in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area looked a lot like bad decision #2, which would inevitably lead to #3 and #4 and the kind of fix that ends in hospitals or cemeteries. By contrast, admitting I’d been defeated by a winter storm in, of all places, South Carolina, didn’t seem like such a great tragedy.So I hiked to the nearest highway and hitched a ride, correctly trusting that drivers out in such weather would be proud enough of their vehicles and hardy spirit to gladly help a hiker in need. (Thank you, Seth, of Greenville.) Soon enough, I was home in front of a roasting-hot wood stove, leafing through a book I should have reviewed more thoroughly before I left—Andrew Skurka’s The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide—and trying to figure out what I did wrong.Skurka is the perfect advisor to help us efficiently and economically adjust for winter trips. He’s completed as many epic treks as any hiker in the country, and my well-thumbed copy has informed not only my equipment choices but my overall approach to backpacking. Not minimalist, exactly, but definitely no-nonsense. After rereading relevant passages of his book and taking in his emailed response to my questions, I saw how easily the trip I’d had could have become the trip I should have had.Footwear. Skurka is less about promoting stuff hikers need than about the expensive—and heavy—stuff they think they need but don’t. And no item of conventional gear attracts more of Skurka’s scorn than the good old hiking boot. Trail running shoes dry quickly and provide plenty of support at half the weight. The claimed moisture protection of boots, either from leather treatments or so-called waterproof liners, is overstated and temporary.At least, for most of the year. But in winter, the freezing rain and thin blanket of snow that fell overnight on my trip was enough to soak my feet and benumb my toes. If I’d read my guide more carefully, I would have noticed that trail shoes are strictly a three-season recommendation. Skurka wrote me that in winter he wears ankle-height boots lined with Gore-Tex, which provides sufficient moisture protection from dry snow.Sleeping bag. The second-most glaring gear deficiency, my bag, is optimistically touted as suitable for three seasons. Three seasons where? I asked myself, looking at its alarming flatness on the floor of my tent. Florida, maybe. I bundled up in every layer of wool and synthetic fiber clothing I had brought—one of the few things I did right, Skurka wrote. This kept me warm enough, barely, and only because the temperatures didn’t really start to fall until after daybreak. But I lay awake most of the night worrying that they would, which gets to one of the real values of a good sleeping bag—security. It should be, along with a good shelter and a set of warm, dry sleeping clothes, a guaranteed refuge even in the coldest weather. In our part of the country, that means a “comfort” rating of 20 degrees Fahrenheit, Skurka wrote in an email, which typically translates to a standard temperature rating about a dozen degrees lower. It’s the most expensive upgrade; winter bags usually mean down, and ones meeting Skurka’s recommendations start at more than $200, while premium brands employing the highest loft down can cost twice that amount. But even that’s not so much, really, for comfort of body and mind.Shelter. Like Skurka, I prefer tarps, and my standard rig, including guy lines, weighs in at little more than a pound. But, like a lot of other backpackers, I couldn’t quite resist the idea that a tent would be a cozy winter alternative. Unfortunately, mine is an old three-person Kelty, bought when my kids were small. It wasn’t until I’d returned that I put it on a scale and realized the horrifying penalty it had extracted; it weighed in at nearly 8 pounds, or about three times as much as a good down bag. Go ahead and use tarps in winter, Skurka wrote in an email, though it’s “best to have a full-sided model, to minimize drafts.” If not, pitch it so the sides protect from the wind. And if you have a choice—which you don’t in places such as Mountain Bridge, which requires reserved sites—camp low in breezy conditions and high when the air is still and cold settles.Stoves. Another thing I almost did right: I chose my butane canister stove over the homemade cat food can alcohol burner that I’d adopted as my go-to heat source on Skurka’s recommendation. The relatively lux meal I thought I’d need at the end of a long day of winter hiking, Kraft Velveeta & Shells, required longer cooking time than standard backpacking fare. And I couldn’t imagine morning without coffee, which meant boiling not one but two pots of water. Skurka makes the same concession, but reminded me of a lesson I’d already learned from my trouble firing up my stove in the morning: because gas stays liquid in cold weather, you need to sleep with it in the foot of your bag.Route. This has nothing to do with gear and everything to do with common sense. No matter how smart you pack, your burden will be heavier in winter than in summer. Stream crossings will take longer because of the care needed to prevent soaking boots and socks. Sections of trail that you normally cruise through can bring you almost to standstill. So, pick shorter routes, especially because in winter you will likely have even well-traveled trails all to yourself.Lessons learned—the hard way.