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Authorities restrict satellite dish sales to limit information flow on cyclone damage

(Mizzima/IFEX) - Shops selling satellite dish antennas are being raided and searched by local authorities in Rangoon. The shop owners are being made to sign a pledge not to sell satellite equipment to unlicensed customers and equipment has been confiscated from some shops.

On 6 June 2008, local officials raided and searched Toshiba Kyaw Win's satellite dish shop, located on Anawratha Street, Latha Township, Rangoon Division. They seized satellite dish equipment from the shop and the owner had to sign a pledge not to sell dishes to unlicenced customers.

"They are searching the shops now but our shop has stopped selling the dishes," the owner of Soe San Electronic Centre in Bahan Township said.

Meanwhile, satellite dish dealer Ko Chit Win Kyaing, from Grand Electronic, and another dealer from the Green Leaf shop were recently arrested without being given any reason, sources close to the satellite dish dealers told Mizzima.

The government raised the annual licence fees for satellite dishes after the "saffron revolution" in September of 2007. Local residents speculated that the move to raise licence fees was intended to curb the flow of information about the brutal crackdown on protesters at that time. Similarly, the government is trying to restrict the sending and receiving of photographs, video clips and other information with the intention of imposing a news blackout and stopping international news services from being viewed.

After the high licence fees were imposed, sales of satellite dishes fell drastically. Many shops have stopped selling the dishes.

"We stopped satellite dish sales after licence fees increased and the business became sluggish," the owner of the Hla Han & Sons satellite dish shop said.

International television news services were popular among people in Rangoon after the "saffron revolution".

A former National League for Democracy (NLD) party member feels that the current restrictions on satellite dish sales have to do with restricting the flow of information to the outside world regarding the true facts following the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis on 2 May.

"The confiscation of satellite dishes is tantamount to a news blackout," he said.

According to official statistics, there are about 60,000 satellite dish licencees in Burma, with a total population of 55 million.

For further information on the raising of satellite licence fees following the "saffron revolution", see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/89380

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