Inside Burma: Land of Fear

“On the surface, everything appears serene... But Burma is also a secret country, isolated for the past 34 years since a brutal dictatorship seized power, the assault on its people all but forgotten. To tell their story, we had to go undercover. What we found was a land of fear.”

In Inside Burma: Land of Fear, John Pilger exposes the brutalities of the military dictatorship that in 1962 took over the former British colony where torture and forced labour are commonplace. Although little evidence had been seen on television in the West, it was known that 10,000 people were killed in the democracy uprising of 1988. 

Posing as travel consultants in a country whose government was promoting tourism and trying to entice foreign investment, Pilger and director Munro made the documentary using a camera with a lens the size of a pinhole concealed in a shoulder strap during their two-week trip.

South of the capital, Rangoon, they film the “death railway”, running from Burma to Siam, which had cost the lives of 100,000 Burmese and other Asians who built it alongside British and Allied prisoners of the Japanese during the Second World War. Today, slave labour and child labour is common in the south and, on a construction site of an extension to the railway, they witness a boy almost buried in the cement he is mixing by hand.

A centrepiece of the film is Pilger’s interview with Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy leader and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner still denied freedom of movement after six years under house arrest.

The documentary also features interviews with exiles as far afield as Norway who tell of their interrogation and torture, and of bodies, dead and alive, being burned in Rangoon’s crematorium after the popular uprising in 1988.

Pilger observes that foreign money – from oil companies and tourist attractions – is shoring up the generals’ power in Burma. He reveals that one British firm to trade with the Rangoon regime was the arms company BMARC, a subsidiary of Astra, whose takeover by MI6 featured in his previous film Flying the Flag: Arming the World. [add link to film on website?]

Inside Burma: Land of Fear was repeated with updated material two years later to mark the 10th anniversary of the democracy uprising. In a new interview, British Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett admits that the new Labour government has not imposed sanctions on Burma, contrary to its support in opposition for such a call by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Inside Burma: Land of Fear (Network First, Central Independent Television/Carlton UK), ITV, 14 May 1996

Producer-director: David Munro (51 mins)

(Updated repeat, ITV, 28 July 1998, 52 mins)