September 27, 2007 By Gina M. Scott
Most of Burma's (Myanmar) mobile phones have been shut down and Internet speed and access has been drastically reduced since the military junta cracked down on peaceful protesters this week. Charges by police and troops on demonstrators in Rangoon, especially near the Shwedagon pagoda, have left several dead, according to reports, while dozens of people have been arrested and injured. Security forces opened fire on demonstrators near the Tarder Hotel in the centre of Rangoon Thursday.
As the security forces step up their crackdown by firing on crowds and arresting hundreds of monks and pro-democracy activists, communications continue to be severely disrupted by the authorities.
Many blogs maintained by Burmese citizens have been blocked by the authorities. Despite these restrictions, pictures and reports continue to get out of the country thanks to the foreign and Burmese journalists.
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association spoke out against the measures adopted by the military junta to prevent journalists and activists from covering the on-going crackdown.
"The generals have not hesitated to use force to repress peaceful demonstrations widely reported in the international press," the two organizations said. "Knowing it is protected by China and the international community's impotence, the junta has cut the country off from the rest of the world in order to better crush the nascent saffron revolution. We appeal to the international press to step up its coverage by trying to get journalists into the country so that this dramatic situation is not played out behind closed doors."
At 3 p.m. local time Wednesday, the military authorities disconnected most of the country's mobile phone lines, preventing journalists and demonstrators from reporting on the crackdown. Several journalists have been injured today, including Than Lwin Zaung Htet of the magazine The Voice.
The authorities have closed Internet cafes in Rangoon while the government-controlled Internet Service Provider, Bagan Cyber, reduced Internet traffic speed. It is getting harder and harder to send or receive photos and videos sent from Burma. Dozens of foreign journalists have been refused tourist visas by the Burmese embassy in Bangkok.
Burmese blogs, Web sites and Internet cafes have been closed for the past few days, while it is becoming increasingly difficult to call Burmese mobile phones from abroad, especially to Ba Maw, Mandalay and Myitkyina.
A group of journalists and intellectuals, the Burma Literary Association, launched an appeal on 24 September for the release of political prisoners and for national reconciliation. Despite the threats from military censors, they added their voice to the protest movement by Buddhist monks. Created on September 20th, this organization recalls a similar one set up during the 1988 protests. One of its initiators, journalist U Win Tin, has been imprisoned since July 1989.
"We know this will be a difficult battle, but the brutal dictatorship's power has been challenged by another power, the power of love, and it is this power that will win the day," said Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association.
The military junta imposed a curfew on Rangoon and Mandalay on Monday and banned gatherings of more than five people.
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