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Burma 30 September 2007

With Internet still disconnected, concern mounts about fate of monks and civilian detainees

Although fixed-line phones and some mobiles are still working, the complete absence of Internet in Burma is making it harder and harder to send photos and video footage about the situation in Rangoon and the rest of the country. Nothing is being reported about what is happening to the thousands of prisoners of conscience.

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association call on the international media to use every possible means to try to break through this news blackout, especially about the fate of the detainees, who risk being tortured. The two organisations also urge UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari to publicly condemn the measures taken by the military junta to block the free flow of news and information.

After restoring the Internet for a few hours yesterday, the authorities have again disconnected it. Yesterday afternoon, troops took up position around the headquarters of the leading ISP, Myanmar Infotech, whose website (www.myanmarinfotech.com.mm), like all websites with the .mm country domain suffix, is currently down.

It seems that government officials are able to send email messages, after verification of their content, from inside the department of posts and telecommunications building, which is controlled by troops.

“Military prior censorship, long applied to the print media, is now being applied to the Internet,” Reporters Without Borders and the BMA said. “This case of prior control of all information sent by Internet is unique in the world.”

As a result, no photos or video footage have been published about the fate of the 700 monks held by the military, about the hundreds of civilians, including Generation 88 leaders, who have been imprisoned, about the fate of Aung San Suu Kyi and others National League for Democracy leaders, about the situation inside the monasteries now controlled by the army, or about Insein prison, north of the former capital, where hundreds of prisoners of conscience are held.

Because Rangoon is now under tight military control, no journalist has been able to verify whether hundreds of monks are indeed being held inside the Rangoon Technological Institute or in a disused race course known as Kyeikkasan Interrogation Center. The news website Irrawaddy quoted a monastery official as saying monks had been forced to take off their robes and wear prisoner uniforms.

Today, some peaceful demonstrations were reported in Pakokku, Sittwe and Taung Goke with thousands of participants, but no images emerged because of the Internet blackout.

The news blackout is fueling rumours about the number of victims and about divisions within the regime. “One should not believe either the regime’s propaganda or the crazy rumours going around the country,” a journalist in Rangoon said.




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