Myanmar authorities unblock some banned websites

Many news websites have been blocked since 2007, when the military junta launched a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy. protesters

Updated: Sep 16, 2011, 15:48 PM IST

Yangon: Myanmar`s government was
allowing access to banned news websites on Friday for the first
time in years, including several operated by exiled

The unannounced move is the latest step taken by the
Southeast Asian nation`s new leaders to boost hope, however
faint, that authoritarian rule here could finally be easing.

Censors this week unblocked the websites of international
media outlets including the Voice of America and the British
Broadcasting Corp., as well as the Democratic Voice of Burma,
Radio Free Asia and the video file sharing site You Tube.

Since authorities introduced the Internet here about a
decade ago, Myanmar also known as Burma has aggressively
monitored online activities and routinely blocked websites
seen as critical to the government.

It has also punished journalists with harsh jail terms;
the Democratic Voice of Burma says around 25 journalists are
currently detained in Myanmar, 17 of them its own.

Many news websites have been blocked since 2007, when the
military junta launched a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy
protesters, but local Internet users have been able to
circumvent the ban by using proxy servers.

Wai Phyo, chief editor of a prominent private Weekly
Eleven news journal, welcomed the government move, saying it
would allow journalists to be of "greater service to the

Shawn W Crispin, Southeast Asia Representative of the
Committee to Protect Journalists, said less that 0.3 per cent
of the population in Myanmar has access to the media. However,
allowing them full Internet access "is hardly a noteworthy
move toward more press freedom," he said.

"There are still regulations on the books that will allow
authorities to arrest and charge anyone who dares to access
these sites in Burma`s highly regulated and strictly policed
public Internet cafes," Crispin told a news agency in Bangkok.

"These sites may now be available in Burma, but Internet
users risk arrest and even prison for accessing them."

"Until Burma`s military-backed regime stops pre-censoring
the local media and releases all the journalists it holds
behind bars," Crispin said, "Burma will remain one of the most
restricted media environments in the world."