Reporters Without Borders condemns a new wave of obstacles that Burma’s military government has imposed on Internet usage as well as its expulsion of two American journalism teachers on 6 May. It is getting steadily harder for Burmese to send emails or access websites while all means of communication were cut yesterday around opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s home.
“The increased restrictions on Internet usage following Aung San Suu Kyi’s reimprisonment suggest that the military government is once again trying to isolate Burma, as it does whenever there is political tension,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We firmly condemn this behaviour and appeal to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to put more pressure on the government to allow the free flow of information.”
It is now extremely difficult to access websites. A Rangoon-based journalist told Reporters Without Borders: “For the past five days, it has been taking hours to open foreign websites, especially email sites, but no one knows why.” It took an average of one hour to send a single email message, he said. “This is almost certainly a deliberate policy, so that no reports or photos can easily be sent out of the country.”
In practice, emailing is now very restricted. When an Internet user tries to connect to Gmail, the most popular email service in Burma, the browser often disconnects, treating Gmail as an “illegal” website (see illustration).
The government has also reportedly warned Internet café managers that any use of proxy software to circumvent online censorship will result in the café’s closure. Those caught in the act of opening email accounts for clients will also be closed, they have reportedly been told.
The two Americans who were expelled, Jerry Redfern and Karen Coates, were teaching journalism to students in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city. After being arrested and held in their hotel room, they were taken by train to Rangoon and expelled the next day (6 May) without being told why.
In an email message to Reporters Without Borders, they said: ““They told us they had received an order from Naypyitaw [the capital] to arrest us (...) They gave us no explanation. They did not ask us anything, they did not tell us anything, they did not look for anything, and they did not take anything. We were not mistreated or handcuffed.”
They added that they thought their arrest and expulsion might have been prompted by the case of an American citizen who was arrested for secretly visiting Aung San Suu Kyi in her home. However, they stressed that they had no ties with that American.
The exile online newspaper Irrawaddy today quoted journalists working for various Rangoon-based publications as complaining about their inability to cover Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrest because of government censorship.