In April 2010, an official from the government’s Cyber Crime Department reportedly warned that the state would impose harsh punishment for any online activities related to politics.50 Under Section 33 of the Electronic Transactions Law, internet users face prison terms of 7 to 15 years, and possible fines for “any act detrimental to”—and specifically “receiving or sending and distributing any information relating to”—state security, law and order, community peace and tranquility, national solidarity, the national economy, or national culture.51 The Television and Video Law (1996) penalizes anyone who possesses a television set, satellite dish, or videocassette recorder and who uses such technology to copy, distribute, sell, or exhibit video recordings without authorization from the state censorship board. Violators face three years in prison or a heavy fine.The junta makes judicial appointments and interferes with the decisions of judges.
Trials for bloggers and other online activists are grossly unfair, lacking due process and typically held in special closed courts. Most defendants are denied access to legal counsel or adequate time to prepare a defense.53 Like other political prisoners in Burma, individuals A copy of the constitution in English is available at http://burmadigest.info/wpcontent/uploads/2008/11/myanmar_constitution-2008-en.pdf.
Burma Lawyers’ Council, “Myanmar Law (1988–2004),” http://www.blcburma.org/html/Myanmar%20Law/Indexs/lr_law_ml_index.html.
Nayi Lin Latt, “Cyber Hum Khinn Thadin Pha-lel Yay Toe Myint Si Sin” [Increased Information Exchange on Cyber Crimes], Irrawaddy, April 9, 2010, http://www.irrawaddy.org/bur/index.php/news/1-news/2984-2010-04-09-07-29-14.
Electronic Transactions Law, State Peace and Development Council Law No. 5/2004, available at http://www.blcburma.org/html/myanmar%20law/lr_e_ml04_05.htm.
Television and Video Law, State Law and Order Restoration Council Law No. 8/96, available at http://www.blcburma.org/html/myanmar%20law/lr_e_ml96_08.html.
Amnesty International, “Myanmar Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review Tenth session of the UPR Working Group of the Human Rights Council: January 2011,” http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA16/008/2010/en/c0d0b33c31ec-4cfe-b38a-ebae72909704/asa160082010en.html.
BURMA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net detained on internet-related charges are at risk of torture and medical neglect in custody.
Lawyers who take on free expression cases have themselves faced punishment. In late October and early November 2008, two defense lawyers, Nyi Nyi Htwe and Khin Maung Shein, were imprisoned for six and four months, respectively, for contempt of court after taking seemingly innocuous actions on behalf of their clients. Four more defense lawyers— Kyaw Hoe, Maung Maung Latt, Myint Thaung, and Khin Htay Kyew—were barred from representing their clients, including members of the 88 Generation Students group, who were charged under the Electronic Transactions Law and other statutes for their use of the internet and “unlawful” e-mail correspondence.According to Amnesty International, the number of political prisoners as of March 2010 was over 2,200,55 an increase of nearly 80 percent from the period before the protests. Many of these prisoners—including monks, student activists, bloggers, and online journalists—were charged under ICT-related laws, and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, with some ordered to spend decades behind bars.56 Sentences for individuals contributing articles or images to exile media are particularly harsh. In 2010, Reporters Without Borders counted at least 15 journalists and two internet activists in detention.57 One of the latter was Nay Phone Latt, a blogger and owner of three cybercafes, who was sentenced to 20 years and six months in prison in November 2008 for posting a cartoon of Than Shwe on his blog.
The proceedings were held in a closed court, the defendant’s mother was not allowed to attend the trial, and he was not represented by his defense lawyer, Aung Thein, who had received a four-month jail term for contempt of court.Blogger Win Zaw Naing, whose arrest was reported in November 2009 after he had been in detention for several weeks, faced up to 15 years in prison for posting pictures and reports about the September 2007 protests.59 No news of his sentencing was available as of December 2010. In September 2009, freelance reporter Hla Hla Win was arrested and ultimately given a 27-year prison term, including 20 years for violating the Electronic Transactions Law. She worked for the exile broadcast station Democratic Voice of Burma, Ibid.; see also Asian Human Rights Commission, “BURMA: Two Rights Lawyers Imprisoned for Contempt of Court,” news release, November 8, 2008, http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2006statements/1761/.
Amnesty International, “Myanmar Opposition Must Be Free To Fight Elections,” news release, March 10, 2010, http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/myanmar-opposition-must-be-free-fight-elections-2010-03-10.
Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) and United States Campaign for Burma, The Future in the Dark: The Massive Increase in Burma’s Political Prisoners, September 2008 (Mae Sot, Thailand: Assistance Assocation for Political Prisoners [Burma]; Washington, DC: United States Campaign for Burma, October 2008), http://www.aappb.org/the_future_in_the_dark_AAPP_USCB.pdf; Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Surge in Political Prisoners,” news release, September 16, 2009, http://www.hrw.org/en/node/85614.
Reporters Without Borders, “Press Freedom Barometer 2010: Burma,” http://en.rsf.org/report-burma,53.html.
“Burma Blogger Jailed for 20 Years,” British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), November 11, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7721271.stm.
Reporters Without Borders, “Another Blogger Arrested for Posts about Saffron Revolution,” IFEX, November 16, 2009, http://www.ifex.org/burma/2009/11/16/blogger_arrested/.
BURMA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net recording video interviews in Burma and sending them to the Norway-based outlet mostly via the internet. Her associate, Myint Naing, received a total of 32 years in prison.In January 2010, a former military officer and a foreign affairs official were sentenced to death, and another foreign affairs official was sentenced to 15 years in prison, for the leak, mentioned above, of information and photographs about military tunnels and a general’s trip to North Korea. As of December 2010, the executions had not been carried out.61 Also in January 2010, journalist Ngwe Soe Lin was sentenced to 13 years in prison for working for an exile media outlet. He had been arrested in a cybercafe in Rangoon in June 2009.62 In July 2010, activist Than Myint Aung received a 10-year prison sentence for violating Section 33(a) of the Electronic Transactions Law by using the internet to disseminate information that was “detrimental to the security of the state.” This came on top of a two-year jail term and a three-year jail term for violations of Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act and Section 13(a) of the Immigration (Emergency Provisions) Act, respectively.63 Most recently, in late December 2010, photographer Sithu Zeya was sentenced to eight years in prison for taking pictures in the aftermath of an April 2010 bomb blast in Rangoon, and for his affiliation with an exiled media outlet.The record of harsh punishments against critical internet users has fostered selfcensorship and an impression of pervasive surveillance. In reality, however, surveillance is generally spotty due to the limited competence or capacity of the authorities, and corruption on the part of local officials. In many criminal cases, including the trials of members of the 88 Generation Students group and of comedian and blogger Zarganar, the military has used materials such as online chat records and e-mail messages as evidence in court. The authorities either monitor internet activity before arrest, or abuse detainees during interrogation to obtain their passwords and electronic documents.
Myint Maung, “Appeal Case for DVB Reporter Hla Hla Win,” Mizzima News, March 24, 2010, http://www.mizzima.com/news/breaking-and-news-brief/3718-appeal-case-for-dvb-reporter-hla-hla-win.html; see also Committee to Protect Journalists, “Burmese Journalist Handed 20-Year Prison Sentence,” news release, January 7, 2010, http://cpj.org/2010/01/burmese-journalist-handed-20-year-prison-sentence.php; Reporters Without Borders, “Appalling 20Year Jail Sentence for Democratic Voice of Burma Video Reporter,” news release, January 5, 2010, http://en.rsf.org/burmaappalling-20-year-jail-sentence-05-01-2010,35833.html.
“Two Receive Death Sentence for Information Leak,” Irrawaddy, January 7, 2010, http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.phpart_id=17542; “Burmese Whistle-Blowers Sentenced to Death—BBC Source,” BBC, January 7, 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8446462.stm; “Burma to Execute Two Over Secret Tunnels Leak,” Times (London), January 8, 2010, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6980654.ece.
Reporters Without Borders, “Another Video Reporter Gets Long Jail Sentence,” news release, January 29, 2010, http://en.rsf.org/burma-another-video-reporter-gets-long-29-01-2010,36245.
“Ko Than Myint Aung Ko Naught Htet Htaung Sel Hnit Cha Hmat” [Ko Than Myint Aung Sentenced to Additional 10 Years], Radio Free Asia, July 15, 2010, http://www.rfa.org/burmese/news/accused_bomber_got_10_year_sentence07152010170049.html; Myint Maung, “Court Extends Prison Sentence of NLD Liberated Area Member,” Mizzima News, July 16, 2010, http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/4122-court-extends-prison-sentence-of-nld-liberated-areamember.html.
Reporters Without Borders, “Photographer Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison,” news release, December 28, 2010, http://en.rsf.org/birmanie-photographer-sentenced-to-eight-28-12-2010,39163.html.
BURMA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net Cybercafe owners are required by law to keep records on their customers’ activities, and police have free access to them upon request.65 Many owners do not systematically enforce monitoring of their users, however, often assisting them in circumventing censorship instead. In an effort to close these gaps, since May 2010, the government has increased surprise inspections of cybercafes in Rangoon and instructed owners to post signs warning users not to visit political or pornographic websites.66 In November 2010, the authorities also instructed cybercafes to install CCTV cameras and assign at least four security staff to monitor users.In addition to registering their identity when purchasing a mobile phone, individuals are required to register their computers with MPT and obtain the company’s permission to create a webpage.68 These measures are selectively enforced, with authorities especially targeting those suspected of engaging in political activism or transmitting information to exile or foreign media outlets.
The junta is believed to attack opposition websites based abroad. From May to July 2010, the popular site Photayokeking.org, edited by a Burmese army deserter, was hacked, leaving it inaccessible and inoperative. Many leading exile websites—including the Irrawaddy, Mizzima, Democratic Voice of Burma, and New Era Journal—have been temporarily shut down by hackers since 2008.69 All of the attacks to date have been distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. Military sources inside Burma say that the junta has dispatched officers to Singapore, Russia, and North Korea for informationtechnology training, and that these officers are assigned to monitor e-mail messages and telephone conversations, and to hack opposition websites.70 China also provides training and assistance, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The Irrawaddy, based in Thailand, and the Democratic Voice of Burma claim to have traced cyberattacks to addresses in China and Russia, though they could not identify the culprits. Author’s interview with cybercafe owners in Rangoon, Mandalay, and Pegu who asked to remain anonymous, July 11 and 28, 2010.
“More Restrictions and Hurdles on Internet Use” [Internet Ah Thone Py Hmu Ah Paw Khant Thet Hmu Nae Ah Khet Ah Khe Tway Po Myar Lar], Voice of America, May 3, 2010, https://www.myanmarisp.com/2010/CICT/ict0201/; author’s interview, July 6, 2010.
“Myanmar tightens security measures with cybercafe running”, Xinhua News, December 1, 2010, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2010-12/01/c_13630683.htm.
OpenNet Initiative, “Country Profiles: Burma (Myanmar),” May 10, 2007, http://opennet.net/research/profiles/burma.
Alex Ellgee, “Another Opposition Website Shut Down by Hackers,” Irrawaddy, June 19, 2010, http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.phpart_id=18759.
Author’s interviews with military officers who joined training in Russia and a former military intelligence officer, July 6 and 25, 2010.
Dietz and Crispin, “Media Freedom Stalls as China Sets the Course”; Committee to Protect Journalists, February 10, 2009, http://cpj.org/2009/02/media-freedom-china.php; Reporters Without Borders, “No Credible Elections Without Media Freedom,” March 26, 2010, http://en.rsf.org/burma-no-credible-elections-without-26-03-2010,36847 and “Majority of Cyber Attacks Came from Chinese IP Addresses,” Irrawaddy, September 28, 2010, http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.phpart_id=19572.
BURMA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net CHINA 2009 POPULATION: 1.3 billion INTERNET FREEDOM Not Not INTERNET PENETRATION: 33 percent STATUS Free Free WEB 2.0 APPLICATIONS BLOCKED: Yes Obstacles to Access 19 SUBSTANTIAL POLITICAL CENSORSHIP: Yes Limits on Content 26 BLOGGERS/ONLINE USERS ARRESTED: Yes Violations of User Rights 34 PRESS FREEDOM STATUS: Not Free Total 79 INTRODUCTION Although China is home to the world’s largest population of internet users, many of whom have shown increasing creativity in pushing back against censorship, the country’s internet environment remains one of the world’s most restrictive. This reflects the Chinese Communist Party’s paradoxical “two-hand strategy” for managing digital technologies: