The Burmese government demonstrated clearly last year that it will brook no dissent on the Internet when it arrested and sentenced blogger Nay Phone Latt to 20 years and six months in prison in 2008, on vague charges that his postings violated the Video and Electronic Act.
Under a military dictatorship since 1962,
The Internet is one of the few places where Burmese can receive independent news and views, albeit at their peril. That's particularly true for bloggers, many of whom have dared to post outside news or their own views on local events. Various laws restricting the right to information and expression have been promulgated and if violated can lead to long jail terms for journalists, bloggers, and Internet users.
For instance, failure to register a computer or online
network can result in a prison sentence of between seven to 15 years, on top of
a substantial fine. In every Internet cafe in
Meanwhile Internet cafe owners are required to take regular
screen shots of what their customers view and report on demand their records to
the authorities. Less than 1 percent of
That's because the cost of a private connection is so prohibitive.
A personal broadband connection with Burma's main ISP, the state-run Myanmar
Teleport, costs US$1,300 plus additional monthly fees while the average Burmese
household's monthly income is around US$40. To surf the Internet at a privately
run but government-monitored cafe in
Despite these repressive laws and prohibitive costs, many Burmese--especially among the younger, tech-savvy generation--use proxy servers to evade the censors and blog on various topics, including the local political and economic situation. It's unclear exactly how many Burma-related blogs there are in and outside the country, but several have already earned a reputation for providing news and commentary not carried in the censored local media.
Bloggers are definitely under fire, as CPJ's survey rightly
indicates, but they nonetheless represent the seedlings of an emerging
independent media in
Soe Myint is the editor of the New
News, an exile-run Web site known
for its hard-hitting reports on neighboring