Netizen Report: Transition Edition

The June 21st edition of the Netizen Report on Global Voices Advocacy begins in Myanmar, which is undergoing an uncertain political transition:

Myanmar’s resolve for an open Internet is being tested this week as the government declared a state of emergency on June 10, to contain deadly clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in the nation’s western Rakhine state. The country’s military junta was dissolved in 2011, so the government’s response to website comments inciting hate and murder could set a new tone for freedom of expression as the state goes through a seminal transitional moment.

Despite moves toward democracy, Myanmar was still listed as one of the ‘Enemies of the Internet‘ this year by free speech advocacy group Reporters Without Borders. The government began political reforms last year and has increased access to the Internet by lowering firewalls that had blocked social media such as Facebook and the use of VoIP software.

The conflict between Buddhists and the Muslim Rohingya minority has galvanized Internet activity in this developing nation, but hate speech, ruthless pictures of dead bodies and street protests have spread quickly online. The independent Burmese website Democratic Voice of Burma also had its server overwhelmed in a Distributed Denial of Service attack (DDoS) by hacker group Blink, which used computers with IP addresses based in Singapore or Russia. The Blink website posted numerous anti-Islamist messages including “Get Out From Our Land .. Rohingya .. We Love RaKhine .. We Love Myanmar”, directing comments at the Muslim minority, which traces its origins to neighboring Bangladesh.

Myanmar’s government remains silent on these social media messages, but military officials have warned news media not to inflame the conflict through their reporting and demanded all articles be submitted for government review before publication. As in many countries under transition, it remains to be seen whether Internet freedom can survive this political and humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, the struggle for online freedom continues around the world..

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