Myanmar junta accused of slowing down Internet

Myanmar authorities appear to be deliberately slowing down the Internet ahead of this weekend`s election to make it more difficult for journalists to get images and news out of the country, rights groups said Monday.

Last Updated: Nov 01, 2010, 15:48 PM IST

Yangon: Myanmar authorities appear
to be deliberately slowing down the Internet ahead of this
weekend`s election to make it more difficult for journalists
to get images and news out of the country, rights groups said
Monday.

The highly secretive military junta has not announced any
Internet slowdown but analysts say it fits a pattern of new
restrictions put in place ahead of Sunday`s vote, including
tighter controls over the movement of aid agencies and the
suspension of a visa-on-arrival system for travellers.

Other measures include barring entry to foreign
journalists and outside observers.

The poll will be Myanmar`s first elections in 20 years,
but critics have widely dismissed it as designed to ensure the
military retains power with a civilian facade.

The junta aggressively censors the Internet, routinely
blocking politically sensitive websites. During a crackdown on
pro-democracy protesters in 2007, the junta completely cut
access to the Internet and shuttered many cybercafés.

"I`m not surprised to hear that the Internet is grinding
to a halt," said David Mathieson, a Myanmar researcher with
New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"It`s a slow squeeze," Mathieson said. "They`re slowing
everything right down so the potential for negative
information to come out is greatly reduced."

Hotels and travel agents that rely on the Internet for
business say the slowdown started a week ago and many are
advising travellers that Internet connections cannot be
guaranteed for at least a week.

"The situation with the Internet connection is not
stable. We don`t know exactly how long it will last. We hope
it will be better after this weekend," said a worker on the
reservation desk at Yangon`s upscale, colonial-era Strand
Hotel. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of drawing
unwanted attention from authorities.

The slowdown has been mentioned in Myanmar`s tightly
controlled media, none of which have blamed the government.
The "7 Day News" weekly reported in its October 28 issue
that the problem appeared to stem from a hacker attack and was
affecting all Internet service providers.
he said in a newspaper interview.

PTI