In­ter­net ac­cess still ‘not free’: re­port

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - KAYLEIGH LONG k.long@mm­

Myan­mar’s web users have seen a mod­er­ate in­crease in in­ter­net free­doms, but the coun­try re­tains the same “not free” sta­tus it held last year, and ranks along the likes of Turkey, Thai­land and Vietnam, ac­cord­ing to Free­dom House.

MYAN­MAR has claimed a mod­est im­prove­ment in in­ter­net free­dom this year, ac­cord­ing to global cy­ber watch­dog Free­dom House, but re­tains its sta­tus as a “not free” state for web users.

In 2014, the in­de­pen­dent US-based mon­i­tor­ing group de­clared Myan­mar’s in­ter­net to be “partly free” for the first time, cit­ing le­gal re­forms. Last year, the coun­try was down­graded to “not free”, with more ob­sta­cles to ac­cess, vi­o­la­tions of user rights and re­stric­tions on con­tent noted by ob­servers.

On the in­dex, re­leased an­nu­ally, coun­tries are ranked from 0 to 100, with 0 be­ing most free and 100 be­ing least. This year, Myan­mar sits along­side Turkey, with a score of 61.

Rat­ings are de­ter­mined through an ex­am­i­na­tion of three broad cat­e­gories: ob­sta­cles to ac­cess, lim­its on con­tent and vi­o­la­tion of user rights.

The re­port iden­ti­fied three “key in­ter­net con­trols” still ex­er­cised by the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment in the post­cen­sor­ship era.

Th­ese in­di­ca­tors in­clude pro-gov­ern­ment com­men­ta­tors ma­nip­u­lat­ing on­line dis­cus­sions; blog­gers or ICT users be­ing im­pris­oned, ar­rested or in pro­longed de­ten­tion for po­lit­i­cal or so­cial con­tent; and tech­ni­cal at­tacks against gov­ern­ment crit­ics or hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tions.

In­stances of ma­li­cious hack­ing re­main a con­cern in Myan­mar, with the pre-elec­tion take­down of The Ir­rawaddy web­site high­lighted, as well as tar­geted at­tacks on DVB, Eleven Me­dia, and high­pro­file po­lit­i­cal tar­gets in­clud­ing NLD spokesper­son U Win Htein and Yan­gon Chief Min­is­ter U Phyo Min Thein.

The re­port sin­gled out one par­tic­u­lar in­stance of Myan­mar’s smart­phone rev­o­lu­tion hav­ing a mean­ing­ful, pos­i­tive im­pact on high­light­ing hu­man rights.

“Af­ter a video show­ing abuse at a mil­i­tary academy went vi­ral in Myan­mar, pub­lic out­rage forced the mil­i­tary to launch a high-level in­ves­ti­ga­tion, an un­prece­dented ges­ture to­ward ac­count­abil­ity from the coun­try’s most un­touch­able in­sti­tu­tion,” the re­port said, re­fer­ring to a pur­ported haz­ing video.

The re­port also high­lighted the pros­e­cu­tion of poet Ko Maung Saung Kha over a Face­book post he made that de­scribed a new­ly­wed’s dis­may at dis­cov­er­ing a tat­too of the pres­i­dent on her hus­band’s gen­i­tals.

Myan­mar is far from the only coun­try in the re­gion con­sid­ered “not free”, with Thai­land, China and Vietnam shar­ing the du­bi­ous hon­our. Cam­bo­dia’s rank­ing de­clined but it re­mains “partly free”.

Two-thirds of all in­ter­net users – 67 per­cent – live in na­tions where crit­i­cism of the gov­ern­ment, mil­i­tary or rul­ing fam­ily are sub­ject to cen­sor­ship. Across the board, global in­ter­net free­dom de­clined in 2016 for the sixth-straight year.

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