Rights campaigner again denied entry to Myanmar

By SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER

YANGON — Immigration officials have again denied a visa to Mark Farmaner, after the executive director of Burma Campaign UK and veteran human rights activist sought entry to Myanmar this week.

An application for an entry visa was denied in London earlier this month, and Farmaner was told to re-apply with a letter listing a travel itinerary and itemising which individuals he would meet while in Myanmar.

A further application for a business visa through a Bangkok agency was denied without explanation, and he was told that future applications would also be rejected.

Entry was also initially denied to Ma Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, Burma Campaign UK’s campaigns officer and the daughter of senior 88 Generation Peace and Open Society member U Mya Aye.

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Immigration officials reversed the decision and granted an entry visa after Mya Aye spoke to the President’s Office.

After the U Thein Sein administration took power in 2011, hundreds of names were removed from an immigration blacklist which barred from the country a number of human rights campaigners critical of the former military regime.

However, since the National League for Democracy government took power in March 2016, it has become apparent that several journalists and activists remain subject to an entry ban.

Bangkok-based photojournalist Greg Constantine was refused entry at Yangon International Airport and deported late last year, after arriving in the city to attend an exhibition of his work on stateless populations around the world.

Earlier this month officials denied a visa request from Zoya Phan, the campaigns manager for Burma Campaign UK and the wife of Farmaner.

She was attempting to travel to Pantanaw in Ayeyarwady Region for the unveiling of a statue of her late father Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan, a former general secretary of the Karen National Union who was gunned down by assassins in 2008.

Farmaner said that he was aware of several Myanmar activists who were banned from returning from the country but had chosen to remain silent in the hope of negotiating their way off the blacklist.

“There needs to be clear and transparent criteria for people being on the blacklist and that shouldn’t include banning people because they speak out on human rights or criticise the government or military,” Farmaner told Frontier on Thursday.

He added that even if the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs had drafted it, civilian officials from the immigration and foreign affairs ministries had chosen to enforce the blacklist.

“If the President is able to remove people from the blacklist then it can’t be argued that the NLD don’t have ultimate control,” Farmaner said.

“For me, being banned is an inconvenience. For people from Burma it is tearing and keeping apart families. It’s cruel.”

This week marked the latest in a series of visa rejections for the London-based campaigner, who was initially blacklisted from the country after entering on a tourist visa in 2004.

He was refused entry in 2010, shortly after that year’s general elections. A visa application was accepted in April 2012 while another was denied in June of that year.

Farmaner’s last official visit to Myanmar was in November 2012, during which he met with then-opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

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