YANGON (AFP) — The flow of information out of Myanmar was squeezed Friday as the nation's main Internet link went down and several newspapers stopped publishing, amid a deadly crackdown on anti-junta protests.
Myanmar's military rulers always keep a tight grip on information, heavily censoring newspapers, blocking much of the Internet and rarely allowing foreign journalists into the country.
As the government has cracked down on protesters, pressure on the media has soared.
People found with cell phones or cameras were beaten by soldiers on Thursday, witnesses said, while a Japanese photojournalist died after being shot.
Media rights group Reporters Without Borders said the regime was trying to establish a media blackout so it can operate "behind closed doors."
"As the repression of demonstrations continues, the junta is intensifying its strategy of isolating Myanmar, trying to return to the days of 1988 when news of a massacre only reached the outside world much later," it said.
The Paris-based RSF said that media repression was accelerating, "the flow of information is drying up" and "there is an urgent need to help the Myanmar and foreign journalists so that they can continue to provide information".
The organisation said that all cybercafes in the main city of Yangon were closed and that the military was persecuting journalists who continued to try to work despite the difficult conditions.
The effects of the censorship are compounded by the nation's crumbling infrastructure. Power outages routinely last through most of the day, and telephone service is often unreliable.
But a telecom official said Friday that the nation's main link to the Internet was down, blaming the problem on a damaged cable.
"The Internet is not working because the underwater cable is damaged," an official with Myanmar Post and Telecoms told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Most businesses in downtown Yangon, including the Internet cafes, were closed Friday, in the third day of a crackdown on anti-government protests that has left at least 13 dead and hundreds more behind bars.
The Internet blockage severely reduced the number of photos and videos of the crackdown that have been transmitted by journalists, activists and bloggers.
Anonymous bloggers have helped send a flood of photos to the rest of the world documenting the violence, and the military government has repeatedly accused foreign media of instigating the protests.
"I think that they're very frustrated that all these pictures and video footage are getting out, so they're doing their best to try to cut wherever they can," one western diplomat said.
"Literally, they're trying to stamp it out."
Several of the nation's tightly controlled private newspapers have stopped publishing due to government pressure and unrest in the streets, an industry leader said.
"Some publications may have been forced to close down because they refused to carry the government's propaganda," he said on condition of anonymity.
The newspapers were also struggling to operate because unrest in the streets over the last two days made it impossible for vendors to sell papers, the source added.
"Their people can't get out there selling them because of the problems," he said.
Myanmar's authorities have also cut phone service to some local and foreign journalists, and warned local reporters not to join the protests.
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