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Internet clampdown during UN chief’s Burma visit

July 8, 2009 (DVB), Internet users in Burma were impeded by slow connections and faced questioning by authorities last weekend as surveillance on internet cafes increased during Ban Ki-moon's visit.

A number of internet connections were cut off during the two-day visit, while authorities blocked access to certain international news websites and email providers, including Google Mail.

"We heard [authorities] did this to prevent people getting news of the UN secretary's visit," said an internet café employee under condition of anonymity.

An internet café user said that authorities were slowing internet connections to a point whereby files and other information could not be emailed.

"By doing so, they can escape from being blamed for completely cutting off the internet connection," he said, adding that a number of internet cafes were under surveillance.

"Recently an internet place I was sitting was visited by some police officials. They just came in the place and started questioning people about the website they were surfing at the time."

Internet users in Burma are subject to heavy restrictions, which often tighten during politically sensitive times.

In May, the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) name Burma as the world's 'worst country to be an internet blogger', citing the draconian restrictions on internet use.

Vincent Brossel, head of Asia desk at media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said that tampering with the internet was a common tactic used by the Burmese junta "to prevent the spreading of information".

"It's very pathetic that the government has to do at such an opportunity as when the UN Secretary General is in the country – they fear that this information can circulate about how Mr Ban Ki-moon was so badly treated in the country," he said.

"The tactic is, to create fear among the people who are sending news and pictures and testimonies to the outside that they can be caught."

Ban Ki-moon on Saturday said he was "deeply disappointed" by the visit, in which he was twice denied a request to meet imprisoned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The junta claimed that a meeting between the two was no feasible because Suu Kyi is on trial.

Reporting by Ahunt Phone Myat


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