Myanmar Works Hard to Keep the Internet Out
In downtown Yangon, Internet entrepreneur Aye Min Oo is busy selling space on a Web site that he cannot access.
To woo advertisers who are also forbidden to access the World Wide Web in military-ruled Myanmar, formerly Burma, he transports his tourist-oriented Web site's pages the old-fashioned way.
"I travel around Yangon and demonstrate the pages on the hard drive of my laptop," he said. "We e-mail new pages to the webmaster in Belgrade. Hopefully, some day we will see it online here ourselves."
Aye Min Oo's roundabout access to the Internet may not be ideal, but it is a rare privilege in isolated Myanmar, a Southeast Asian country of 48 million people where some of the world's toughest Internet restrictions are vigorously enforced.
The measures, aimed at fending off the online campaigns of exiled Burmese opposition groups, restrict e-mail access to fewer than a thousand people who are close to the ruling party, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).
Access to the World Wide Web is strictly banned, and unauthorized use of a modem is punishable by 7 to 15 years in jail.
Just one other Web site operates consistently from the country, which has been widely condemned for human rights violations and the suppression of democracy. It is the government's own site, which is only available outside the country. It features tourist and army news in four languages, along with regular fiery criticism of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party won a 1990 election that the military refused to recognize.
In the decade since then, thousands of democracy activists have been jailed or have fled the country once known as the "rice-bowl of Asia," now one of the world's poorest.
Among Yangon's tiny, struggling expatriate and business communities, where the daily struggles are with boredom and marginalization, the lure of the Internet has been hard to resist. Dialing into foreign servers is an obvious if illegal route for frustrated staff members at embassies and other organizations.
Crd : The New York Times