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MILITARY REGIME OPENS COMMUNICATIONS, BUT KEEPS TIGHT WATCH

As tumultuous protests that rocked Burma in September 2007 subsided, the military regime is relaxing censorship and other restrictions, but continues to control the Internet and detain prisoners.

Curfews in Burma's two largest cities, Rangoon and Mandalay, were lifted on 20 October, Mizzima News reported. A ban on gatherings of more than five people also ended, along with other restrictions announced four weeks earlier.

The government made Internet accessible 24 hours a day again on 14 October, but police officers trained in information technology monitor cybercafés, local surfers told Mizzima. Internet cafés are required to install a system that takes screen shots of their computers every five minutes to make sure users do not visit political or other banned sites.

The famous actor and comedian known as Zarganar was released after more than three weeks in detention, a colleague said. Zarganar (Ko Thura) was arrested on 25 September with veteran politician U Win Naing for offering 'Swan' (food and water) to protesting monks at Shwedagon pagoda.

But the junta unofficially banned use of pseudonyms of several writers, artists and cartoonists who joined the Swan offering. Writings submitted under various pen names have been rejected by Burmese censors without a reason. "Even stories on football" are held indefinitely, a sports editor told Mizzima.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the Burma Media Association welcomed the release of two journalists - Win Ko Ko Latt of "Weekly Eleven" and Nay Linn Aung of "7-Days" - but expressed concern for a half-dozen journalists, writers and comedian-columnists still in prison. RSF noted that Ko Thu Ya Soe, a photographer for the German agency EPA, was last seen at the start of October.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has launched a webpage for six jailed Burmese human rights defenders, farmers from the Hinthada delta region who were jailed after distributing copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international laws on the rights of women and children to which the regime is a signatory.

A technical overview of Burma's Internet censorship has been published in "Pulling the Plug", a report by the OpenNet Initiatve (ONI). The other side - the collaboration of technically savvy citizen reporters with mainstream international media, and how Burmese media in exile operate - is examined by the Asia Media Forum.

A group of activists based in Thailand has resorted to sending female underwear to Burmese embassies to protest against the crackdown. It's a calculated insult, Jackie Pollack of the Lanna Action for Burma Committee told "The Guardian" of Britain: superstitious junta members believe that contact with female undergarments will sap them of their power.

Visit these links:
- Mizzima News: http://www.mizzima.com
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24121
- Burma Media Association: http://www.bma-online.org/
- Assistance Association for Political Prisoners: http://www.aappb.org/
- Asian Human Rights Commission: http://www.ahrchk.net/pr/mainfile.php/2006mr/489/
- Red Cross: http://tinyurl.com/2yeg6a
- Asia Media Forum: http://www.asiamediaforum.org/node/747
- ONI "Pulling the Plug" report: http://tinyurl.com/yu74bs
- Human Rights First petition: http://tinyurl.com/yvzlrf
- "Panties for Peace": http://tinyurl.com/2vsxos
- The Irrawaddy magazine: http://irrawaddy.org/
(23 Oct. 2007)

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