Thursday, May 7, 2009

Burmese to permit more internet cafés following ranking as worst internet rights abuser

Mon Son, IMNA

The Burmese government announced that it will be granting permission to open internet cafés country wide only 4 days after country is condemned as the having the worst abuses in internet rights. It remains to be seen weather an increase in internet cafes will increase internet freedom.

On Monday, May 4th, According to People Media Voice, an exile Burmese media group, the Burmese government will allow for shops to be opened not just in Yangoon, where the majority of country’s internet café currently exist, but throughout the country including rural regions.This also includes plans to extend the internet network throughout the country. However no specific number has been announced as to how many can open, nor have any opened since the announcement.The announcement came from the Myanmar Tele Post which operates under the Ministry of telecommunications, post and telegraphs.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report highlighted a number of countries through out the Middle East and Asia where people are targeted by a variety of means of control by the government, from censorship, restricted internet access, to outright imprisonment and threats to restrict the freedom of speech and press.

The reports also described Burma as the worst country for freedom of expression. According to CPJ report “Burma leads the dishonor roll.” Shawn Crispin, the South East Asia Representative of the CPJ said in response to the Burmese government’s announcement, “any official commitment to allowing a greater number of Internet cafes must be taken with a huge grain of salt.”

By making its announcement on Monday, World Press Freedom Day, and CPJ drew a clear line stating the significance of online media repression as a major emerging threat to press freedom worldwide. Crispin explained “By putting Burma atop our list of 10 worst places in the world to be a blogger, we hope exposure of its censorship and repression will ultimately affect change and greater freedom of expression.”

In Burma Internet use has been on the rise, but the number of internet cafés is still incredibly small. In 2003 there were about 20 Internet cafés throughout the country. Now there are 464 Internet cafes country wide, 355 of which are located in the country’s capitol of Yangoon. However this leaves only 109 facilities spread throughout the rest of the country.

According to the Internet research group OpenNet Initiative, a private Internet watchdog group, only about 1 percent of the population in Burma has access to internet cafés which are already heavily censored and regulated by military authorities. However Myanmar Information Technology statistics show only about 300,000 people have access to the internet in the whole country.

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