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Myanmar, phone calls to protesters

Yangon (Myanmar) – The telephone lines of the National League for Democracy (NDL) are silent, the activists’ cell phones are silent, while the telephone calls to foreign envoys in Myanmar end with a recorded message, which warns that the telephone number is temporarily unavailable. available.

The military junta that has been deciding the fate of the country since 1962 has increased the pervasiveness of surveillance since August. The news of the government-imposed fuel price increases sparked protests from the people and activists. The demonstrations were stifled with nearly two hundred arrests and threats, intimidations that have brought silence to the local media that are still beyond the control of the state.

A paradoxical situation is occurring, reported Reuters in recent days: the people of Myanmar can only take advantage of the Radio London on duty, which from abroad, they relay information collected by clandestine networks to the country of local reporters and activists, who operate in total anonymity to escape the government surveillance that operates inside and outside the Net.

To be hit by the sprawling surveillance of the military junta are in the first place the bloggers, victims of the online control, which has reserved for Myanmar a place among the thirteen enemies of the Internet and a poor mention among the censors of the Net by Open Net Initiative. The Irrawaddy, a newspaper operating from Thailand, run by expatriate Myanmar citizens, reports on the threats and searches suffered by an activist who runs a blog unwelcome to the government.

But it is not only the independent voice of netizens that worries the Myanmar hierarchs: since the 19th of August, from the first uprising of the people, Reporters Sans Frontières recalls, the journalists were closely guarded by army men, who they watched over any attempt to take pictures of protests and repression. A measure that did not apply simply to the small independent local reporters, but also to the envoys who tried to convey a picture of the situation in the former Burma abroad.

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However, the repression must not have had the desired censorship effects: since last week there have been numerous foreign correspondents complaining of inefficiencies on telephone lines . “It is as if the military junta wants to cover our eyes and ears,” a journalist who preferred to remain anonymous told The Irrawaddy. Communications from Mizzima, a press agency founded by journalists exiled by the regime, are also blocked, and the cuts to the lines do not spare even European agencies such as AFP, which since last week has complained about disconnections of telephone lines. All problems that the representatives of the telecommunications ministry justify with “orders from superiors”.

The situation is no longer reassuring at party headquarters : the opponents of the military regime are seeing the telephone lines they could count on being cut down one by one. “We hope that it is a technical problem and we hope that things will return as soon as possible”, hopes on the pages of AFP a representative of the NDL, the party to which the Nobel Peace Prize Aung San Suu Kyi belongs, still confined to house arrest by the regime. But the cuts of the lines, at least fifty in the last few days alone are not accidental at all, revealed an anonymous source from the telecommunications ministry.

Interrupting some strategic telephone lines, explains The Irrawaddy, means interrupting all types of communication between activists and the NDL, preventing the mounting of protests from benefiting from any type of coordination operated by the party. It also means silencing any kind of relationship between activists in Myanmar and the media operating from abroad, making the curtain even thicker which prevents news from leaking inside the country and abroad.
A situation well portrayed by the World Bank indicators that assess governance: the parameter that refers to freedom of expression for the media and citizens in Myanmar has not been close to one percent for years.

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Gaia Bottà



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