Burma Remains ‘Enemy of the Internet’

A global watchdog’s report highlights Burma’s continued online censorship.
2012-03-12
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A man walks out of an internet cafe in Rangoon, Aug. 24, 2010.
AFP

A global media watchdog has kept Burma in its group of countries that impose excessive online censorship, saying it could be removed from the blacklist if the government repeals a notorious media law and take other steps to complement ongoing government reforms.

France-based Reporters Without Borders maintained Burma among a dozen of the world’s top “Enemies of the Internet” in its 2012 list, citing a lack of reform in the country’s legal framework for controlling and monitoring the Web, among other factors.

But the report, which classifies as “enemies” countries that severely curtail freedom of expression on and access to the Internet, also said Burma could soon leave the list if it undertook “necessary measures,” including repealing the Electronic Act, legislation which had been described by Reporters Without Borders as “one of the most liberticidal laws in the world.”

“The situation is improving in Burma … but the legislative and technical tools for controlling and monitoring the Internet have yet to be dismantled,” it said.

It acknowledged steps to improve online freedoms – including releasing journalists and bloggers and unblocking websites – that Burma has taken since last year, when the country ended decades of iron-fisted rule by the military junta.

President Thein Sein, who came to power with a nominally civilian government last March, gave assurances this month that his government is truly committed to democratic change, but critics remain skeptical of how far the reforms will go.

“[Burma] has clearly embarked on a promising period of reforms,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“It must now go further by abandoning censorship altogether, releasing the journalists and bloggers still held, dismantling the Internet surveillance apparatus and repealing the Electronics Act,” it said.

The infamous law, which forbids posting information critical of the government, has been used since 2004 to arrest bloggers and journalists.

“In order for reforms to take hold and to avoid any setback, the entire legal framework needs to be revised,” Reporters Without Borders said, pointing to a new media law authorities have promised to adopt in 2012 as a positive sign.

The report comes after Burmese authorities censored a campaign speech by pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week.

The Nobel laureate, who said authorities had removed a paragraph critical of the military junta, has cautioned against too much faith in changes in the current government.

Other countries

China and Vietnam, which have both stepped up crackdowns on netizens in the past year, also made it on the Reporters Without Borders' list of top online “enemies.”

In the past year, the two countries launched new waves of arrests of netizens, bloggers, and journalists amid concern over contagion from Arab Spring protests in the Middle East.

China – which has one of the world’s most sophisticated online censorship and surveillance systems – remains the country with the largest number of netizens in prison, followed by Vietnam, the report said.

North Korea, which limits Web use to its own national intranet, is also on the list.

The reclusive regime, which in December hid the news of its leader Kim Jong Il’s death for two days, has begun establishing its presence on social media networks as it seeks to take its propaganda war overseas, the report said.

Reported by Rachel Vandenbrink.