Burma's Government Unblocks Foreign Websites Including YouTube

By: Qichen Zhang on 20 September 2011
Posted in Asia, Burma

In a surprising political move, Burma’s government recently unblocked a number of foreign websites, marking a change from its usual authoritarian control over the Burmese Internet. The Telegraph reported last week that the unblocked sites comprise mostly international media companies, including Voice of America and the BBC. Video and multimedia sites such as YouTube and Radio Free Asia were also accessible again. The most shocking, however, was the inclusion of websites run by Burmese exiles. According to the Global Post, these sites regularly criticize the Burmese regime but were unblocked along with foreign websites.

Those optimistic about the fact that the Burmese government seems to be moving toward pro-democratic practices may find little else parallel to this recent development, however. Boris Sullivan on Thailand Business News wrote that the move may simply be one of “a series of conciliatory gestures” due to international pressure from the United Nations. Furthermore, Thailand continues to detain 20 journalists on political grounds with prison sentences ranging from 13 to 27 years. Center to Protect Journalists Southeast Asia representative Shawn Crispin remarked on the large, pro-democractic steps the government still needs to take beyond a simple unblocking of websites:

The government’s promise of reform is welcome, yet censorship in Burma remains arbitrary, intensive and highly restrictive. Legal reform to ensure press freedom would lend much-needed credibility to the government’s claims of democratic change in Burma. Draconian laws restricting reporting must be abolished and imprisoned journalists must be immediately released.

Crispin was also hesitant to celebrate this comparatively small move in what has been a long, ongoing fight for Internet openness in Burma. In the same interview, he drew attention to the fact that only 0.3 percent of Burma citizens currently have access to the Internet.

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