Tag Archives: Burma

Top 10 Censored Countries.

CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney counts down the 10 countries where the press is most tightly restricted

China didn’t make the list but not from lack of trying.

China not most censored, but may be most ambitious

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Article 19: Why free media are important to development and democratization

Great speech in Burma (Myanmar) by Agnes Callamard of Article 19, a freedom of expression group. (Article 19 refers to that provision of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights that deals with freedom of expression.)

Role of freedom of expression in democratisation processes: an ARTICLE 19 presentation

Some key points:

Before focusing on the importance and role of a proper legal framework, we may need to reiterate a few things about why freedom of expression, freedom of the media matter.

Human rights are the foundation of human dignity, freedom, justice and peace. The 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights laid out equal rights for all people and three fundamental principles governing human rights: rights are universal, meaning that rights apply to everyone whoever or wherever that person is; inalienable, in that they precede state authority and are based on peoples’ humanity; and indivisible in that all rights are of equal importance.


Freedom of expression and freedom of information are crucial to democracy and the enjoyment of other rights. The importance of freedom of expression was particularly emphasised by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which stated:

Freedom of expression is a cornerstone upon which the very existence of a democratic society rests. It is indispensable for the formation of public opinion. It is also a conditio sine qua non for the development of political parties, trade union, scientific and cultural societies and, in general, those who wish to influence the public. It represents, in short, the means that enable the community, when exercising its opinions, to be sufficiently informed. Consequently, it can be said that a society that is not well informed is not a society that is truly free.

Why rule of law is important in general

The rule of law is to a stable sustainable society what the skeleton is to the human body. Without a strong, stable, unbroken and nourished skeletal underpinning the human body falls, fails, simply cannot function in any reliable manner. With a sound skeletal framework in place, the human body can absorb the stresses of it movements and its ambitions: we can sit, stand, run, create, defend, protect, assert.

Rule of law and freedom of expression

So for the laws to play their role as far as freedom of expression and freedom of the Media are concerned, they must meet a set of international agreed standards. And in the best case scenario, they should also seek to meet existing best practices within the international community.

And why rule of law and freedom of expression are linked:

The right is freedom of expression, under international human rights law, may be restricted in order to protect a legitimate aim, amongst others, the rights of others, and public order, if it is done by law and if it is “necessary in a democratic society” to do so.

To be legitimate, a restriction to freedom of expression must meet a three part test:

First, it must be prescribed by law;

Second, it must pursue a legitimate aim, such as respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of national security, public order, public health or morals; and

Third, the restriction should be necessary to secure the legitimate aim and meet the test of proportionality.


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Internet enemies list; No real surprises here

Reporters Without Borders has a great list of governments that are “Enemies of the Internet.”

And there are no real surprises.

The hostility governments in places such as Burma, China, Cuba exhibit toward freedom of speech, press and expression is well documented. What I like about the RSF Internet list is the detail it provides about those governments.

For example in China we learn more than just the Great Firewall is functioning but also that the number of Internet users in the country exceeds the population of the United States (384 million Chinese Internet users v. 308 million people in the United States.)

We also learn that the average cost of one hour of Internet cafe time is US$2/hour. To me this is interesting because the average MONTHLY wage in China is US$219-274.

And we learn that 72 “netizens” are in Chinese jails, among them Nobel Peace Prize winner Lio Xaiobo who is serving an 11-year jail term for writing his opinions on the Internet and helping launch Charter 08.

We also see more details about the censoring of information in China and its impact on a generation of Chinese:

On the eve of the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square events, a dozen websites such as Twitter, YouTube, Bing, Flickr, Opera, Live, WordPress and Blogger were blocked. The information blackout has been so well-enforced for the last 20 years that the vast majority of young Chinese citizens are not even aware that the events of June 1989 ever happened.

Other countries listed as enemies of the Internet are:

  • Burma: Two high-ranking government officials sentenced to death for having e-mailed documents abroad: Net censorship is a serious matter in Burma. Massive filtering of websites and extensive slowdowns during times of unrest are daily occurrences for the country’s Internet users.
  • Cuba: Despite a few improvements, Internet access actually remains beyond the reach of most of the population because of its high cost and low connection speeds. The regime, which maintains two parallel network, is now taking aim at a small blogger community that is becoming increasingly active.
  • Egypt: Since early 2007, the government has been reinforcing Web surveillance in the name of the fight against terrorism, under the iron fist of a special department of Egypt’s Ministry of Interior. Facebook is monitored, rather than blocked, so that activists can be observed or arrested. Authorities are monitoring their people’s emails and telephone calls without any court order, by virtue of the Telecommunications Law, which requires Internet service providers to supply them with the necessary surveillance services and equipment.
  • Iran: Censorship is a core part of Iran’s state apparatus. Internet surveillance has been centralized, thereby facilitating implementation of censorship.
  • North Korea: Let’s start with an average charge for one hour’s connection at a cybercafé at US$8.19 with an average monthly salary of US$17.74. The large majority of the population is not even aware that the Internet exists. An extremely limited Intranet has been created, but few can access it.
  • Saudi Arabia: Websites that broach the subject of religion, human rights or positions taken by the opposition are rendered inaccessible. Far from denying it, the authorities maintain that their censorship decisions are justified and claim to have blocked some 400,000 websites.
  • Syria: The country is reinforcing its censorship of troublesome topics on the Web and tracking netizens who dare to express themselves freely on it. As a result, social networks have been particularly targeted by omnipresent surveillance.
  • Tunisia: The Internet is seen as a potential threat to the country’s stability and image and is thus the target of pernicious censorship. Very strict filtering, opponent harassment and Big Brother-like surveillance enable the authorities to keep tight control over the news media.
  • Turkmenistan: Very strict filtering is now focused on critical publications likely to target local users and potential dissidents. Opposition websites and regional news sites covering Central Asia are also blocked. YouTube and LiveJournal are rendered inaccessible.
  • Uzbekistan: This country is deprived of independent media outlets. The authorities impose a very strict Internet censorship, while refusing to admit it publicly. Website filtering, sanctions and intimidation are used against potential critics of the regime. Netizens have learned to practice self-censorship.
  • Vietnam: The government claims to filter only content that is obscene or endangers national security, but censorship also affects opposition websites or those that are in any way critical of the regime. Censorship primarily involves blocking website addresses, and particularly concerns sites in Vietnamese.

Then there are countries the RSF is keeping an eye on, such as Australia:

Under the guise of fighting child pornography, the government wants to set up a filtering system never before seen in a democracy. The State of South Australia has passed a law prohibiting online anonymity in an electoral context.

And South Korea:

The authorities are using the criminalization of defamation against their critics and do not hesitate to make examples of them. Since June 2008, a dozen Web surfers have been briefly arrested and interrogated for having posted online comments critical of the government within the context of these demonstrations.


Filed under Asia, Censorship, Freedom of Information, Harassment, International News Coverage, Middle East, Press Freedom

Press freedom and civil liberties linked

The winner of this year’s Society of Professional Journalists’ high school essay contest on press freedom understands the linkage between media freedom and other civil liberties.

The contest — Why are free and independent news media important? — is designed to increase among high school students an increased understanding and knowledge of the importance of free media.

This year’s winner, Erin McDonough of Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va, used Burma and China as evidence how free media and civil liberties go hand in hand.

By eliminating the free press first, authoritarian governments eliminate their opposition and open the floodgates for the repression of other civil liberties.

She gets it.

It makes me feel that there may yet be hope that  more Americans can make the connection between free media and other civil liberties and why it is important to speak up about violations of freedom of press in other countries.

McDonough’s entry first won the Washington, D.C. SPJ chapter contest. Her winning entry was then forwarded to the national SPJ for consideration. The national SPJ award includes a scholarship check of $1,000.

She and a companion will be feted at the annual DC SPJ Dateline Awards/Hall of Fame Dinner June 15.

Read her full essay here.

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BURMA: Elections without speech (or free press)

The Asian Human Rights Commission out of Hong Kong has been watching the run up to the elections later this year. (No date has been set.)

The AHRC is running a series of position papers on some of the problems it sees — besides the obvious that the main opposition party is not allowed to participate.

The latest in the series is Burma: Elections without speech.

In this paper the AHRC looks at how the repression of media and open discussion basically guarantees the elections will not solve the problems in the country or begin to heal the wounds caused by years of a brutal dictatorship.

When the military government of Burma passed five new laws and four bylaws during March in preparation for planned elections later this year, it attracted a lot of interest, discussion and analysis in the global media. The only place where the media did not pick up the story was in Burma, or Myanmar, itself. Aside from official announcements in the turgid state mouthpieces and some articles in news journals iterating the facts, there was no analysis, commentary or debate.

The absence of debate was not because the persons writing and publishing these periodicals did not want discussion, or even try to have some. According to various reports, journalists have interviewed experts and obtained views that they had thought would be printable. But instead, journals have so far been prohibited from covering anything significant about the laws at all, or the parties now registering for the upcoming ballot. The absurd situation exists of an election having been announced and the process of party registration begun without anything other than formal acknowledgement of these facts in the local media.

Controlling and harassing the media is an old game in Burma. Two years ago a journalist was arrested for shooting a video of a referendum vote.

As Burma heads for an election that was forced on the ruling generals by the rest of the world, the absence of free speech and free media make a strong case that these elections will be a sham.

But the blackout on news about the electoral process is not merely a question of media freedom. It is indicative of far deeper dysfunction that prohibits the possibility of free or fair elections. The problem is not just one of how journalists can communicate with their society but how their society can communicate with itself.

Previous papers on the elections are:

The next one is called “The politics of despair.”

Why should anyone other than Burmese care?

This is an object lesson about the importance of free and independent media to the governing and electoral processes. Without a fair and impartial arbiter to look at what the government and political candidates are saying and doing, the citizenry will not be able to make informed decisions.

Of course, one assumes the people have a say in governance. In Burma they don’t. But in the United States and other democracies they do. And it is the duty of journalists to make sure the citizens are properly informed about what is happening.

I have always liked the maxim (and this is probably not a 100% accurate quote): “We don’t report what you want to hear, we report what you NEED to know.”

And that is what dictators and fanatics have never liked about independent news media. So if you don’t want to learn about different sides of an issue, keep reading DailyKos or the Drudge Report.

BTW, notice that the AHRC is based in Hong Kong. This once again proves that civil liberties in Hong Kong are being protected despite Hong Kong falling under Chinese rule. (Can you think of any objective human rights group operating in mainland China?)

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