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SEAPA Alert: Long prison terms under Electronic Law intimidate Internet users in Burma

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Internet users in Burma claimed they are intimidated from surfing the Web as a result of the long prison terms given to those charged under the Electronic Law.

This came in the heels of the long jail sentences meted out to dissidents recently. Blogger Nay Phone Latt, comedian Zarganar and sports columnist Zaw Thet Htwe, were each given up to 45 years' imprisonment for alleged violation of the Electronic Law.

However, Zarganar was sentenced to an additional 14 years' imprisonment after four more cases against him had been heard in the notorious Insein prison's court on November 27. The initial sentence of 45 years' imprisonment was meted out six days before.

Sports writer Zaw Htet Htwe, who had been arrested for helping victims of cyclone Nargis in the Irrawaddy delta, was sentenced to four more years in prison, with his jail term now totalling 19 years.

"I feel very much upset. Now we have to delete everything after sending our emails and files. They [the regime] should not punish the people just for using the Internet. They themselves are using the Internet also," a blogger from Burma said on condition of anonymity.

Famous comedian Zarganar still found the courage to crack a joke at the trial court during his sentencing.

"I am sentenced to 45 years' imprisonment for three 'I' charges: I was sent to Insein prison for using the Internet to study IT," his sister-in-law Ma Nyein said.

An editor of a weekly journal said he and his colleagues are now treading dangerous ground, as the Internet is a critical tool for their daily work.

"[Surfing the Web] has become dangerous. Media personnel have to visit all online news websites. Of course, it depends on which sites you are visiting. If the sites are legally approved [by the junta], there will be no problem," he said, adding that they visit only approved websites.

The Electronic Law has become one of the principal instruments used by the military regime to quell the opposition. The law, which addresses the dissemination of news that allegedly tarnish the image of the authorities, provides for long prison terms.

However, San Moe Wei, secretary-general of the Thailand-based Burma Media Association (BMA) said that most of the people given long prison terms under this law were framed by authorities. This law, he said, is being abused to intimidate Internet users.

"This is a repressive law designed to suppress and intimidate dissidents, journalists and political activists who wish to see political change," he said.

Yet, he said there are still individuals who will defy the repressive law and its harsh prison terms.

"Whatever they do to intimidate us, we will continue with our work; work that should be done," a blogger from Burma said.

Three farmers from Natmauk Township in Magwe Division were charged under the Electronic Law in October of this year for lodging a complaint with the International Labor Organisation regarding the seizure of their farmlands.


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