Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association today condemned increased government monitoring of the Internet and a deterioration in online connections, as well as the continuing detention of Nay Phone Latt, a blogger and owner of two Rangoon Internet cafés who was arrested on 29 January.
“Nay Phone Latt has been unjustly held for a month,” the two organisations said. “He was initially accused of undermining morality under the Emergency Provision Act, a very vague charge that allows the military government to arrest anyone spreading ideas that challenge its policies. He is now alleged to have been in possession of a film it considers contrary to its ideology and faces up to three years in prison. We call for his release.”
He was initially charged under section 5 (J) of the 1950 Emergency Provision Act, which punishes anyone who “causes or intends to disrupt the morality or the behaviour of a group of people or the general public, or to disrupt the security or the reconstruction of stability of the union.”
But according to his family, a new charge has been brought against him under the Television and Video Law (http://www.blc-burma.org/html/myanmar%20law/lr_e_ml96_08.html) that gives the government control over political content and provides for a sentence of up to three years in prison for offenders.
It appears that Nay Phone Latt has been charged under section 32 b of this law, which punishes “copying, distributing, hiring or exhibiting videotape that has no video censor certificate,” because he had a video of a traditional Burmese play called “A-Nyeint” performed by the theatre company “Thu-Lay-Thi.” Its performances are currently banned in Burma.
Meanwhile, in a move to step up control of Internet cafés, owners have been required since January to keep the records of their clients’ online activity and deliver them each week to a special police unit at the department of information. At the same time, according to Irrawady (http://www.irrawaddy.org/), a publication produced by Burmese exiles in Thailand, “the Burmese regime’s network of informers are now focusing their attention on Internet cafés, which are replacing traditional teashops as places where people can discreetly share their views with others.”
Internet connections have also become much slower, possibly to discourage Internet users from downloading large files such as photos and videos. Observed for the past few weeks, this slowness also prevents the use of software designed to circumvent censorship.
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association also call on the authorities to explain the continuing detention of Myanmar Nation editor Thet Zin and his office manager, Sein Win Maung. Police arrested them during a raid on the magazine’s office on 15 February after reportedly finding they had downloaded forbidden documents from Internet but no official reason has been given. The office has been closed.