Monday, 22 September 2008

Burmese Prisoner Dies in Bangladesh Prison

September 21, 2008 - Dhaka (Narinjara): A Burmese national died on Friday in Bangladesh after languishing for years in a Bangladesh prison, according to a report from prison authorities.

The prisoner was identified as Ko Aung San Oo, aged 39, son of U Shwe Thein, from Sittwe in Arakan. He passed away at the medical college hospital in Chittagong from cancer, just a few days after he was admitted to the hospital.

He was initially arrested by Bangladesh police in the border town Teknaf in 2005 for illegally entering Bangladesh territory without valid travel documents. After his arrest, Bangladesh authorities sentenced him to two years in prison under immigration laws.

His sentenced ended in 2007, but he was unable to return to Burma because the Burmese military government refused to accept any Burmese prisoners from Bangladesh for repatriation.

While he was at Chittagong prison, he developed cancer but was unable to get admitted to a hospital for treatment. He finally received care at the hospital when his health began to deteriorate and his condition began to improve, but the care came too late to save his life.

In several prisons of Bangladesh, there are over 1,000 Burmese prisoners languishing after the end of their sentences because the Burmese authorities refuse to allow their repatriation, despite Bangladesh's desire to hand the detainees over.

Interview: Pinheiro calls for new strategy on Burma

Sep 18, 2008 (DVB)–The former United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, called for the United Nations to adopt a new strategy in dealing with the regime.

Speaking to DVB in an interview on 9 September, Pinheiro said that following the junta’s seven-step road map was not an effective way to bring about a transition to democracy.

Pinheiro: “I think it is the moment to revise the strategy vis-à-vis Burma. Precisely because there’ll be on the horizon another step of the road map; the elections. I think that they will also be fake elections, because I don’t know how this miracle will be possible without any basic freedoms. No liberalisation at all.

“I don’t know a single transition process in the world without some sort of liberalisation, in terms of the right to discuss, the right to have meetings and to [distribute] publications. All this is not allowed and how you could have [elections] without international observers? How can we have an election in such an environment? And I think it’s a good moment that Europe, the other western nations, the UN could re-discuss the approach to the country.”

DVB: If you were still at the UN, how would you find an imaginative way to approach the Burma question? Pinheiro: “I don’t have a recipe but I have some hints for strategy. I think that it is very important not to continue considering the road map towards democracy. Of course the military government can do what they want but we are not obliged to consider that transition to democracy. I think that what is going on there is a transition to a consolidation of the military regime. This is not a democratic transition. Why is it important? Because if you base your strategy on the notion of the road map to transition to democracy then it’s impossible, to have a strategy based on a false assumption.

“Second, let’s abandon the hope that the military will disappear after the transition. Then I think that is, I don’t know any transition in the world where everybody that was in the previous regime will disappear like that [snaps fingers]. I think you have to consider that, in the transition a lot of people in the government will continue operating the country.

“I think that is important to continue supporting the NGOs in the country that have some sort of autonomy. There are a lot of assistance, social assistance in NGOs, not exactly connected to the government. I think that every opportunity that the world can have in terms of empowering the community, I think that this must be done.

“Something that I have already said is to establish real partnership between India, China and ASEAN. I think the creation by the secretary-general of a group of friends of Myanmar to support the activities of Mr. Gambari was a good initiative. I would have preferred a smaller group; I think it is very difficult to operate so large a group. In any case, it was a positive initiative. I think this review of some of the elements of the strategy that must be taken into consideration.”

DVB: Can you just comment on the transition from Khin Nyunt, how your working conditions have changed and what you perceive as the challenges for the next rapporteur?

Pinheiro: “I think that I was very lucky. Because ambassador Razali and I, we were operating at a juncture where the military, that is Khin Nyunt and group, was very much open to dialogue with the international community. If you take into consideration that they received Amnesty – how you can imagine a visit by Amnesty now as it was?

“Sometimes, I have the feeling that the world or the international community has lost a good opportunity, perhaps, to give Khin Nyunt more elements. It is not guaranteed that he would not have fallen. But I think perhaps the ambassador Razali was correct in saying that the prime minister needed some more concrete engagement from the international community to prove that his approach was possible.

“He never told this to me but I think that it will be fair to expect that the constitution or the referendum would not be the same as under senior general Than Shwe. That perhaps the referendum would not have been the same sham as it was, or the total absence of inclusiveness in the constitution. But this is a political science fiction. What I know is that the conditions of the present political environment are very difficult for this engagement. We saw this during the humanitarian offerings after the cyclone.

“Then, I think it will not be an easy task for my successor because he’s arriving at a very difficult juncture. In the middle of a roadmap that has indicated that, perhaps we don’t have a roadmap, perhaps we have a roadblock to democracy because what we will get is consolidated authoritarianism.”

DVB: Do you have anything to say to your successor about the constitution and upcoming election in 2010? What would your strategy be?

Pinheiro: “I think that it would be pretentious to say anything to the new special rapporteur. I prefer to say that, I think that perhaps it will be the moment not to continue considering the roadmap a transition. I think that this will change dramatically. Or this will oblige the whole international community to have another strategy, to interact. I think that it’s a fake political process. Nowadays that I don’t have any other responsibility, I think that it’s very risky to continue expecting that from the roadmap, the other stages of the roadmap, will achieve something positive, just following up a process that goes nowhere. It just goes to normalise the military dictatorship.”

The Generals Go Cyber?


(WSJ)- Burma's military junta has so successfully suppressed the media that Internet sites based outside the country are one of the few remaining sources of reliable news for Burmese people. Now it appears not even those sites are safe. Shortly before yesterday's anniversary of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising and last year's Buddhist-monk-led Saffron Revolution, the Web sites of my newspaper, The Irrawaddy, and other Burmese news portals came under cyber attack. I am not alone in believing that the junta is behind the attack, just as it was behind the shutdown of Internet access in Burma during last year's uprising.

On Tuesday, we received reports from our stringers and regular readers that Internet connections in Burma were running slowly. The number of these reports suggested a concerted effort to prevent information from going in or out of the country in the run-up to yesterday's important anniversary. The next day, our colleagues and subscribers in the United States, Japan and Malaysia notified our Thailand-based office that they were unable to access our Web site,

A few hours later, inet, the largest Internet host server in Thailand and the primary host of our site, confirmed our site had been under a "distributed denial of service" attack since 5 p.m. that day. Someone had managed to freeze our site by bombarding us with so much traffic that our server couldn't cope. Inet finally decided to shut down our server.

The attackers also targeted our "mirror site," which handles overflow traffic whenever our primary host is unavailable. Singlehop, the server for our mirror site, told us the attack was forcing it to shut down our site, too. The company told us the attack had been "very sophisticated." The attacks on both our primary and our mirror sites are continuing.

Nor are we alone. Fellow exile news agencies Democratic Voice of Burma and New Era were also disabled in similar attacks. We have been forced to publish our daily news via a temporary blog we've created,

The attack on our Web sites is persistent and believed to be manually launched from various locations, which according to our Web hosts means it's the work of a large group of hackers. Cyber criminals, widely dispersed around the globe, can be bought for as little as $500 a day. We've been able to trace one source of the current attack to a computer connecting to the Internet in the Netherlands. Burma may have local cyber criminals too. In recent years the regime has sent students -- mostly from the army -- to Russia for study that many believe includes training in cyber warfare.

As for the motive, that's not a mystery either. Exiled media groups like the journalists at The Irrawaddy, bloggers, reporters inside Burma and citizen journalists played major roles last September in highlighting the brutal suppression of the monks and their supporters in the streets of Rangoon. Live images, eyewitness reports, updates and photographs landed on our desks every few seconds.

Through us and others like us, the outside world was able to witness the terror of the Burmese regime on television and on the Internet. And so the military regime struck back. On Sept. 27 last year, all connections to the Internet inside Burma were closed down for four days as the authorities tried to conceal their crimes.

This latest act of apparent sabotage comes in a broader climate of Internet and media repression. In Burma, some Internet cafes require users to provide identification before logging on so the government can track Internet usage. In other cafes, informers observe students playing video games and Buddhist monks complain they are treated like criminals if they ask to use the Internet.

Meantime, reporters, editors and publishers based in Rangoon are under increasing pressure. Earlier this month, police apprehended a group of reporters and charged them with working for The Irrawaddy, though they were not. Our stringers say they are nervous, though fortunately they remain undetected. My friend, a foreign journalist who recently left Burma, said that the mood was very tense. "It is hard for our Burmese colleagues to report," she said. "But they are very brave."

In this increasing climate of fear where Internet users are frequently suspected of working for exiled media, people in Burma are naturally afraid to communicate. The Internet is one of the few remaining opportunities they have to do so, especially with the outside world.

Over the past 20 years, the battle between Burma's regime and pro-democratic forces has shifted from the streets to the jungle and now to the computer. The generals will not give in; rather, they will equip themselves and become more sophisticated. The attack on our site appears to be a sign of this trend.

However, the junta is mistaken if it thinks we will give up. We at The Irrawaddy have to build stronger firewalls and more effective systems to prevent future attacks. Ultimately, the flow of information is unstoppable. The Burmese regime's cyber criminals cannot penetrate the strongest firewall of all -- the spirit of desire for change.

Mr. Aung Zaw is founder and editor of The Irrawaddy magazine.

Burma Sentences Activist To Two Years Hard Labour

Press Release: Terry Evans

(Scoop) - On Friday the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced that Burma's military junta has sentenced Thet Way, a labour activist, to two years' hard labour.

Thet Way helped people file complaints about forced labour. His imprisionment makes a mockery of last years agreement between the Burmese junta and the ILO, a UN agency which seeks the promotion of labour rights. The agreement provided immunity from prosecution for anyone making or supporting those making complaints about forced labour.

Forced labour is continuing on a widespread scale in Burma and is accompanied by massive violations of other human rights. Tens of thousands of Burmese citizens, under threat of arrest and/or bodily harm, are forced to work without compensation as porters in war zones, or on massive infrastructure projects.