In Burma, War Against Cyber Dissidents Expands, Even Non-Political Bloggers Jailed

Since the 2007 Saffron Revolution, a popular uprising of students and Buddhist monks, Burma’s military government has been watching the internet with growing unease. The web, as our study of the conflict demonstrates, played a pivotal role in organizing and increasing the visibility of that conflict to the outside world. Citizen journalists, utilizing the content creation powers of Web 2.0 technology, were able to smuggle mobile videos and pictures out to the world, not only in person, but through anonymous uploads and file hosting sites at poorly regulated internet cafes.

Now, according to the exile newspaper Irrawaddy, Burmese authorities are stepping up their efforts to punish political activists who use the internet by imposing lengthy and draconian prison sentences. During the Saffron Revolution, the government’s response was to black out all internet access (possible because the government owns the only two ISP’s) and most mobile phone coverage. Yet when the internet was restored several weeks later, the government changed tactics. First, it limited bandwith at internet cafes, making even highly compressed audio and visual data difficult to transmit. Then, it began invoking a little used 1996 national security law which punishes unlawful access to an electronic network with jail time ranging between 7 and 15 years.

Burma’s authoritarian military-led government has never had a particularly warm relationship with free speech. Since its junta in 1962, the government has consolidated, restricted and stifled all traditional media outlets, putting them firmly under the watchful eye of state censors. The internet, however, and the rise of digital activism which it inspired, has been a much harder beast to tame. Even when it became possible (through ISP consolidation) to monitor and block internet access, citizens circumnavigated the blocks using foreign proxies and encrypted email services.

A disturbing sign in these most recent developments is that the increasingly nervous military government has begun cracking down not only on political dissidents critical of the regime (like the Generation 88 pro-democracy activists), but average Burmese citizens who happen to run blogs, like Nay Phone Latt who last Monday was sentenced to 20 years and 6 months in prison for blogging.

If the military autocracy hadn’t so ruthlessly (though perhaps less brutal, given the high internet visibility) quashed the Saffron Revolution, perhaps we could nurture aspirations for a freer, more open Burma. If there is any hope of cracking a regime that asserts absolute control over the individual, the internet’s capacity for instant and global expression is it. Right now, even this seems in jeopardy.

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5 Responses to “In Burma, War Against Cyber Dissidents Expands, Even Non-Political Bloggers Jailed”

  1. Paul Says:

    Is there any more information on the charges brought against Nay Phone Latt, or the blog posts that brought on the government attention/punishment?

    Thanks —

  2. Chris Van Buren Says:

    Yes, there are reports, though some of the accounts differ. Some sites claim that he was charged with “illegally” posting a cartoon of Burma’s military junta’s leader. (Available here: Other reports claim he was charged with possession of a banned video and operating a seditious blog. ( The court session was closed, evidently even to Phone’s mother.

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