Junta tries to shut down internet and phone links

The Burmese junta was on Wednesday night desperately trying to shut down internet and telephone links to the outside world after a stream of blogs and cellphone videos began capturing the dramatic events on the streets.

In the past 24 hours observers monitoring the flow of information have noticed a marked downturn, with the reported closure of cybercafés and the disconnection of cellphones.

“I was getting emails three days ago but now I seem to have lost contact,” said Vincent Brussels, head of the Asian section of Reporters sans Frontières. “Those who can still access the internet are finding it very slow and hard to send pictures.”

Although less than 1% of the population has access to the internet, and only 25 000 people have email addresses, witnesses have been finding loopholes.

Skilled bloggers evaded the official firewalls and, according to knowledgable sources, people with videos sought access to embassies, foreign businesses or non-governmental organisations whose internet access is not so strictly controlled.

The London-based blogger Ko Htike told the BBC: “I have about 10 people inside, in different locations. All my people are among the Buddhists; they are walking along with the march and as soon as they get any images or news they pop into internet cafés and send it to me.”

The main websites providing up-to-the-minute information are run by Burmese exiles.
The Democratic Voice of Burma, originally just an opposition shortwave radio station, operates out of Norway. Its news editor said from Oslo on Wednesday night: “We had been getting information through mobile phones but these have been cut off. Then our reporters used cybercafés but the traffic has really slowed down in the last few hours. Some of the landlines we used have also been closed, so we cannot get in touch with our people.”

Mizzima News, established in 1998 by a group of Burmese journalists, is based in Delhi, with a news bureau in Thailand. From humble beginnings, three journalists started an online news service with a laptop and no telephone. It now runs an email news service and an online video site with half-hourly updates on its main news site, often from eyewitnesses.

A third source is the online Irrawaddy magazine run by Burmese exiles in Thailand, with hourly reports from all over the country. It has heralded the emergence of the new “citizen reporters”. And from the Asia-Pacific People’s Partnership on Burma come daily exhortations: “Tomorrow will be the BIG DAY as the monks have called on the people from all walks of life to join them the protest movement ... Dear friends, please continue to be vigilant and be prepared to take solidarity actions that we will post for you very soon.”

According to Reporters sans Frontières, Burma ranks 164 out of 168 states on press freedom. The group says: “The Burmese government’s internet policies are even more repressive than those of its Chinese and Vietnamese neighbours ... It keeps a very close eye on internet cafés, in which the computers automatically execute screen captures every five minutes, in order to monitor user activity.”

A detailed study of the internet in Burma by the OpenNetInitiative—run by Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Toronto universities—reported: “Internet access is costly and the state uses software-based filtering techniques to limit significantly the materials Burma’s citizens can access online. Most dial-up internet accounts provide access only to the limited Myanmar internet, not to the global network.”

Extract

Dawn, a young woman living in Yangon, has been blogging on Yahoo!. Here are extracts from her journal on Tuesday.

A lot of rumours are flying around Yangon. I am getting awfully paranoid. What I heard:

The military has been ordered to shoot ... The hospital has been ordered to be cleared, and that they are going to shoot today ... I’ll let you know when I’ve been shot. (I’ll ask someone before I die to blog about it. If it was an instant death, I’ll come to my sister in my dream and tell her to blog about it, or I won’t rest in peace)

The actress and singer Htun Aindra Bo has been captured last night, along with the comedian Zar Ga Nar, and the actor Kyaw Thu for participating in the demonstration.

The recent raining in Yangon have been because of the fake rain bombs dropped by the military.

Internet connections in Myanmar will be shut down tonight.

What I saw: some shops downtown closed down early, and some companies released their employees early. Internet connection was down from 11:20am to 3:40pm. I don’t know if it’s an isolated case, or just in my office.

Protesters of a large number gathered in front of City Hall, carrying posters, and banners. Holding their party’s Peacock flag, NLD [National League for Democracy] members also joined the protest, along with university students.

I am just reporting the current events in Yangon. I doubt that I will be captured and questioned just for writing this, but then.. you never know. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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