By THE IRRAWADDY
Burma is the worst violator of Internet freedom of speech rights in the world, says a leading media watchdog group.
World Press Freedom Day this year is Monday, the day the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) officially names the world's worst Internet oppressor, which is recognized as an emerging threat to freedom of speech and the press worldwide.
"Burma leads the dishonor roll," said the CPJ in its report. "Booming online cultures in many Asian and Middle East nations have led to aggressive government repression."
With a military government that severely restricts Internet access and imprisons people for years for posting critical material on the Internet, Burma is the worst place in the world to be a blogger, the CPJ said in the report "10 Worst Countries to be a Blogger."
The CPJ said that bloggers and online journalists were the single largest professional group unjustly imprisoned in 2008, overtaking print and broadcast journalists for the first time.
China and Vietnam, where burgeoning blogging cultures have encountered extensive monitoring and restrictions, are among Asia’s worst blogging nations, said the report.
Relying on a mix of detentions, regulations and intimidation, authorities in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Egypt have emerged as the leading online oppressors in the Middle East and North Africa.
Cuba and Turkmenistan, nations where Internet access is heavily restricted, round out the dishonor roll on the CPJ list.
Along with censorship and restrictions on print and broadcast media, Burma has applied extensive restrictions on blogging and other Internet activity, the CPJ said.
According to the Internet research group OpenNet Initiative, private Internet penetration in Burma is only about 1 percent and most citizens access the Internet in cybercafés where military authorities heavily regulate activities.
The government, which shut down the Internet altogether during a popular uprising led by Buddhist monks in 2007, has the capability to monitor e-mail and other communication methods and to block users from viewing Web sites of political opposition groups.
At least two Burmese bloggers are now serving long prison sentences.
Blogger Maung Thura, popularly known as Zarganar, is serving a 35-year prison term for disseminating video footage after Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
Nay Phone Latt, 28, is serving eight years and six months in Hpa-an Prison in Karen State for infringement of several acts governing computer use.