Sunday, February 3, 2008

Burma's crackdown on internet freedom condemned

The Nation

Media advocacy groups have condemned Burma's new crackdown on Internet freedom after the military regime reportedly arrested a wellknown blogger in Rangoon.

Nay Myo Latt was taken into custody on Wednesday after writing about the suppression of freedoms since last September's prodemocracy demonstrations, Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association said.

The blogger, owner of three Internet cafes and a member of Aung Sun Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), was arrested at his home in Rangoon's Thingangyun district, the groups said in a release.

Writing under a pseudonym on his website, Nay Myo Latt wrote poems and stories relating indirectly to politics.

He is the first blogger to be arrested, according to the editor of The Irrawaddy, an independent Burmese publication based in Chiang Mai."In the past there were crackdowns on the media, but it seems to me this is the first official case related to blogging," Aung Zaw said. "Photographers and a blogger have been briefly detained in the past, but it's never been this serious.

"Burmese authorities have been increasing surveillance of the Internet since early last month, reportedly pressuring Internet cafe owners to register personal details of all users and programme screen captures every five minutes, Reporters Without Borders said.This information is then apparently sent to the communication ministry, it said.

The only blog platform that had been accessible in Burma, Googleowned Blogger, has been blocked by the regime since January 23.Bloggers now cannot post entries unless they use proxies or other ways to get around censorship, the statement said."This blockage is one of the ways used by the government to reduce Burmese citizens to silence.

Burma is in danger of being cut off from the rest of the world again," the advocacy groups said.A Burmese blogger living in Thailand said reports of Nay Myo Latt's arrest had scared some members of Burma's online community, but most remained defiant.

"People can't access Blogger so they are changing to Word Press or another site. They also post from their Gmail account or send the post to someone outside," Kyaw Win said. "It's not a safe way."A Rangoonbased blogger, speaking in Bangkok last week at a conference on media in AsiaPacific, said people who write in English were at less risk of being detected.

Members of the ruling military junta had little education and could only read Burmese, said the writer, who wished to remain unnamed.