01/25/2011, 00.00
MYANMAR

Yangon: Aung San Suu Kyi challenges censorship, promotes opposition online

After recovering from a minor illness, the Nobel Peace Prize winner was able to get wireless connection in her home. During her years under house arrest, she did not even have access to the telephone. She wants to use social networks to speak to young people, but the regime’s controls and the country’s lack of infrastructure will make it hard for her to achieve her goals.
Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Aung San Suu Kyi has turned to new technologies to reach out to her supporters, and this despite tight controls by Myanmar’s military regime on media and the internet. The opposition leader, who is recovering from a bad cough, plans to use social networks, Twitter above all, as a way to talk to young people. She also wants to explore the possibility of holding online discussions with ethnic minority leaders, something unlikely given the lack of lines and infrastructure. As an ethnic Chin leader recently lamented, “we don’t have proper telephone lines,” let alone the capacity to use “video conference on the internet”.

Freed in November after spending 15 of the past 21 years under arrest, the 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate was hooked up to the internet at a cost of US$ 1,020. She took the last weekend off to regain her strength but was grateful to have access to the wireless network even though her signal is weak.

Although she has apparently not used a computer yet or gone online, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) said she would use the web to talk to her supporters, especially those abroad, and use social networks to connect with younger people. This is very different from her years under house arrest, when her Yangon home did not have access to a telephone.

In order to get internet service, she first applied under her name to a private company. When that was unsuccessful, she turned to state-owned Yatanarpon Teleport, which offers internet access but not online voice communication.

The military regime will be able to monitor and keep tight control over her internet use. An NLD youth leader expert in new technologies said that Aung San Suu Kyi is not worried about that because “she would not do anything in secret and has nothing to hide from the government”.

Since 26 November, the opposition leader has participated in a weekly programme on Radio Free Asia to speak to Burmese abroad. Titled ‘The People and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’, the programme allows her to address concerns voiced by ordinary people, both inside and outside Burma, who can call in or write via e-mail.

In order to promote dialogue and exchange with ethnic minorities, Aung San Suu Kyi would also like to hold online videoconferences. Her proposal however was met with bitter amusement by Chin leader Siang Chin Thang who said, “We don't even have the proper telephone lines,” let alone the capacity to “use of video conference on the Internet”. Not only are telephone links limited, but electrical power goes on and off.

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