Military government paralyses Internet
9 October 2008
Reporters without borders
Reporters Without Borders condemns the way the Burmese military government has paralysed the Internet, silencing online dissidents and carrying out regular raids on Internet cafés, while hacker attacks have blocked access to the leading websites with news and information about Burma for the past few weeks.
“The Burmese can no longer obtain information about the situation in their own country because the main news websites have been blocked by repeated hacker attacks,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Access to online information deteriorated sharply in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the September 1988 opposition uprising and the situation continues. The Internet is now under the government’s heel, just like the traditional media.”
For the past three months or so, four news websites based abroad have been the target of regular Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, in which web servers are blocked by an automated flood of contact requests. The Irrawaddy (http://www.irrawaddy.org), a magazine whose site is hosted on servers in Thailand, has been inaccessible in Burma since 16 September. Although it set up a mirror site (http://theirrawaddy.blogspot.com), it has lost nearly half of its visitors in the past three months (see Reporters Without Borders site).
The websites of the exile radio station, Democratic Voice of Burma, and the exile news agency, Mizzima, which are both dedicated to news about Burma, have been the target of DDoS attacks since August. These stepped up between 15 and 22 September, with the result that they were also inaccessible outside of Burma during that week. They are still being attacked and are still inaccessible within Burma.
The New Era (http://www.khitpyaing.org), an online daily newspaper based in Thailand, was the victim of the same kind of attack from 15 to 17 September. It is now accessible again, after changing its hosting company.
Three countries have been identified as the geographical origins of there hacker attacks – Russia, China and Singapore.
“These DDoS attacks from abroad are targeting websites providing news about Burma,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We do not think these attacks are random, and we strongly suspect the military of trying to control the Internet. The authorities already demonstrated their stranglehold by cutting all access to the Internet at the same moment in 2007. They now suspect Internet users of sending information to exile media, as already happened last year.”
According to The Irrawaddy, soldiers began inspecting Internet cafés in the capital at the start of October. They questioned clients about the sites they visit and the people with whom they have online contact. Internet café owners say connection speeds have declined considerably, making it almost impossible to send or receive photos and videos.
The Internet was introduced in Burma in 1997, but access for individuals was not permitted until 2000 as the government feared being unable to keep the Internet under its total control. There are two access providers, MPT and Bagan Cybertech. MPT is state-owned. Bagan Cybertech’s services are hosted on MPT servers. The authorities acknowledge filtering email messages sent by such services as Yahoo!, Gmail and Hotmail. Only 0.1 per cent of Burmese inside connect to the Internet.
Two cyber-dissidents are currently in prison for using their right to freedom of expression online. One is the Nay Phone Latt, the owner of two Rangoon Internet cafés, who has been held since 29 January in Rangoon’s Insein prison. He appeared before a Rangoon court on 30 September on a charge of undermining the social order under section 505 (b) of the criminal code.
The other is the comedian Zarganar, also known as the Burmese Charlie Chaplin, who had been keeping a blog since August 2007 in which he criticised the government. He has been held in Insein prison since 5 June, probably because of his criticism of the government’s handling of the relief efforts after Cyclone Nargis, which devastated the country a month before his arrest.
Around 3,000 people died when the security forces cracked down on the widespread pro-democracy protests of September 1988. The victims included many of the Buddhist monks who joined the uprising by students and activists. For the first time since then, monks demonstrated again on 26 September 2007, this time against Gen. Than Shwe’s government. The authorities cut off Burma from the rest of the world when they cracked down on last September’s protests.