The Burmese Internet on the eve of election

Burma tops CPJ’s “10 Worst Countries to be a Blogger.” With the scheduled general election in the country approaching, there have been reports of growing interference with both local and exiled journalists. As Burma enters the final stretch of the campaign, CPJ’s senior South East Asia representative, Shawn Crispin, give me a brief summary of the online situation:

It does appear that the authorities are deliberately slowing down Internet connections to make it more difficult for journalists to file images and video over the Internet ahead of the upcoming elections.

One foreign reporter I was in touch said she has had increasing difficulty sending photographs out of the country from Rangoon-based Internet cafes. She said there are concerns among local reporters that the regime may shut down the Internet altogether during the actual elections.

Burma’s military junta learned lessons from the 2007 Saffron Revolution, when many undercover reporters sent images and videos over the Internet to international and exile-run news organizations. You’ll recall then authorities shut down the Internet ahead of the army’s armed assault on protestors.

Since then, the authorities have increasingly used the vague and harsh Electronics Act, which broadly bans the unauthorized use of electronic media, including the Internet, to send information outside of the country, to suppress and intimidate reporters who work undercover for foreign or exile run news organizations.

Three Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reporters have recently received harsh prison sentences on charges related to the Electronics Act. Another two await a court verdict in a a case they were charged under the same Act, among others. This is clearly meant to send a signal to reporters that they risk long jail sentences if they send materials over the Internet, including critical news about the upcoming election.