Posts Tagged 'Human Rights'

(UPDATE) Irrawaddy Under Attack, Still Unavailable

SEOUL — THE BURMA-FOCUSED MAGAZINE The Irrawaddy sent a message to its on-line subscribers today saying that both its main and mirror sites are down due to Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, one year after the beginning of the Saffron Revolution. The publication is, in the meantime, continuing to report from a blogger site.

On Tuesday, we received reports that the Internet in Burma was running slowly, suggesting a concerted effort to prevent information from going in or out of the country.

Then on Wednesday, our colleagues and subscribers in the US, Japan and Malaysia notified our Thailand-based office that they were unable to access our Web site.

A few hours later, I-NET, the largest host server in Thailand, confirmed: “Your site has been under distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack since around 5pm.”

I-NET finally decided to shut down our server.

Singlehop, which hosts The Irrawaddy’s mirror site, explained: “Your server is under a major attack. Due to the size of the attack our network engineers had to null route the IP to negate it. When the attack has subsided we will remove the null route.”

Singlehop told us that the cyber attack was very sophisticated.

Currently, our Web site is disabled and we have been forced to launch our daily news in blogs. Fellow exiled news agencies Democratic Voice of Burma and New Era were also disabled.

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A Year Gone By: Looking Back on the Saffron Uprising

SEOUL — ON SEPTEMBER 24 OF LAST YEAR, Burma’s military junta issued a warning to the masses of gathering protesters, saying they were prepared to crack down on the Buddhist monks who had driven the demonstrations. The streets of Rangoon were filled with saffron robes and laypeople alike, in numbers not seen since the 8.8.88 democracy uprising. What had started as outrage over fuel prices was now a situation as volatile as gasoline, and both sides were tempting it to spark.

Two days later, it lit. Soldiers opened fire into crowds of protesters. Monasteries were raided. Myint Thein, the spokesperson for Aung San Suu Kyi’s democracy party, was arrested along with scores of other activists. Reports of monks being shot and killed sent ripples of anguish throughout the Southeast Asian nation, as images of Burma’s bloody struggle spilled onto front pages worldwide.

And then, the heaving streets were subdued — largely remaining so until the torrential rains of Cyclone Nargis wiped them from the map. The tension that had continued to roil under the surface was overwhelmed, drowned into despair.

Most of the news media have since moved on, but there are still some reports trickling out. George Packer writes from Rangoon for The New Yorker, interviewing writers and watching plays at the American Center. He wonders whether the people of Burma can improve their lives through their own civic activism without tangling with governments — as many have given up hope for a foreign invasion, and even more have realized their own administration wants nothing to do with them.

Radio Free Asia remembers the uprising through the eyes of a citizen activist and a monk. The man, who is referred to only as Zarni, recalls having to go into hiding and being divorced by his wife after talking to journalists towards the beginning of the protests. The monk, U Zawana, is the leader of the All Burma Monks Union and talks about why the sangha got involved.

And in a more recent development, The Irrawaddy says that its Web site was the victim of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, a day ahead of the anniversary of the beginning of the Saffron Uprising. The publication says reports have been coming in that Internet speeds in Burma have been extremely slow lately, indicating a concerted effort to choke the flow of information.

A year gone by, and still not much has changed.

Myanmar Pushes Referendum

BURMA’S IRRAWADDY DELTA REGION has been reduced to a vast stagnant pool and the official death toll from Cyclone Nargis is stretching towards 30,000. Yet even in the face of such epic loss Myanmar’s junta is coldly proceeding with its political wheelings, forcing citizens around the country to vote on a meaningless constitutional referendum.

The Asia Sentinel reported yesterday that Myanmar’s generals announced an overwhelming voter turnout on Sunday, outside of the 47 townships that were affected by the storm. Though journalists were barred from the polls, reports are circulating among Burma watchers and human rights groups that the process was unsurprisingly marred by corruption and fear:

Ballots were reportedly ripped out of hands and “yes” votes marked by election officials. Votes were cast in the presence of soldiers, police and fire fighters ‑ a normally benign group, but in Burma given paramilitary training – both inside and outside polling stations. There are also reports that the junta’s mass organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Association, and the paramilitary Swan Ah Shin, which was involved in the violent crackdown on protestors in September, were also present at the polling stations.

Related media: The International Herald Tribune reports that generals are upholding aid restrictions, as the Guardian posts video footage showing the relief effort and the toll the storm has taken on the country.

If you’re feeling helpless: Mike over at Vagabondish has posted that travelers Nora Dunn and Kelly Bedford are in northern Thailand organizing relief efforts. Read more to learn how you can contribute.

Don’t Be Caught Guilty in Japan

photo by tizzie.

LAST WEEK JAPAN’S JUSTICE ministry announced that it hanged three people in February, according to the BBC. The late disclosure highlighted the shroud of secrecy that accompanies death sentences in the country, and added momentum to the argument that Japan is ramping up its system of capital punishment.

And while that was bad news for human rights activists in the region (not to mention the families of those killed, who were notified only after the fact), a recent Economist article points out how it was worse news for innocent people unlucky enough to have caught the ire of the law — or who just happened to be the easiest scapegoat:

The notion of being innocent until proven guilty is not strong in Japan. Mr Hatoyama [the Justice Minister] calls it “an idea which I want to constrain”. But confessions are important and the courts rely heavily upon them. Apart from helping secure convictions, they are widely interpreted as expressions of remorse. A defendant not only risks a longer sentence if he insists he is innocent, he is also much less likely to be granted bail before trial—often remaining isolated in police custody, without access to counsel, for long enough to confess.

[…] Perversely, where little supporting evidence exists, the system helps hardened criminals, who know that if they do not confess they are unlikely to be indicted. Innocents, on the other hand, may crack—as in the Kagoshima case, or in a notorious 2002 rape case when the accused confessed under pressure but was released last October after the real culprit came forward.

In a nation that proves itself to be advanced in most other ways, Japan’s backwards system of criminal law is baffling. Juxtaposed against the current background of nations taking other allied countries to task for their human rights abuses — eh em, China — one has to wonder why there isn’t more international pressure for openness in a supposedly democratic state.

Madison’s Tibetan Community Rallies

Tibetan monastery in Zhongdian, Yunnan. China, May 2006. Photo by Zara Jarvinen.

MADISON, Wis. – Roughly 100 people protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet converged on the Capitol Square Monday morning, chanting angrily into megaphones and waving signs that read “Free Tibet” in English, Tibetan and Chinese.

The demonstration marked the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, when tens of thousands of Tibetans revolted against annexation. Protests around the world commemorated the date, and had an added potency this year because of the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing.

Tsering Kunga, a Madison resident and Tibetan who held a banner towards the back of the procession at the capitol, said he doesn’t feel China deserved the Olympic nomination because of the country’s human rights record and lack of religious freedoms.

“We really don’t have any freedom,” Kunga, who has lived in Madison for two years, said of his home country. “Especially the freedom of religion is not at all in China, so this is the main thing that we are uprising against.”

A monk marched out in front of the protesters as they rounded the capitol. A man draped in a Tibetan flag shouted into a megaphone, leading the crowd in call-and-response. “China Lies,” he yelled. Protesters boomed back like an echo, “People die.”

Read more at The Capital Times.

Boycott Lonely Planet for Burma?

THE TRADE UNION CONGRESS has called for a boycott of all Lonely Planet travel guides until the publisher pulls their Burma edition from the shelves, saying that the country’s tourism trade only filters more money into the hands of a brutal regime. The TUC has posted an online petition, though the BBC, which now owns Lonely Planet, has already issued a statement saying they have decided not to comply.

The issue draws a fine line between ethics and freedom of information, though in reality there’s certainly some overlap. According to a recent BBC news report, the Corporation has said of its Burma edition: “It provides information and lets readers decide for themselves.”

At the front of the volume, there is a clear list of pros and cons.

Its reasons not to go include:

  • Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi opposes tourism
  • The military government uses forced labour
  • International tourism seen as ‘stamp of approval’
  • Money from tourism goes to the military government

Reasons to go are:

  • Tourism one of few areas to which locals have access
  • Carefully targeted spending reaches individuals in need
  • Locals have told travel guide authors they are in favour
  • Abuses less likely in areas frequented by foreigners

That LP provides travelers with this list may be ironic. If you’ve bought the book, you’ve likely already made the choice and the guide will certainly enable that decision. But denying people access to this information doesn’t seem right either; if people are going to Burma, it’s better that they go armed with the right information. While the TUC’s argument certainly has veracity, its reasoning is somewhat analogous to the conservative claim that taking away condoms will stop teenagers from having sex — it won’t, it will just make it more dangerous.

It’s also worth noting that the most recent version of LP’s guide to Burma was published in 2005, it its ninth edition. The 2007 September protests and ensuing crackdowns may have been a visceral reminder of the terrible nature of Burmese junta, but the country has been a police state since 1962 — this boycott, if it had merit, would seem long overdue.

Photo: marcia reads the lonely planet, by Ed Fladung.

Someone Else’s Shoes: SF’s Underbelly

AMANDA WITHERELL AND BRYAN Cohen, in the true fashion of investigative journalism, spent a week in and out of San Francisco’s homeless shelters getting an unfiltered look at life on the streets. The SF Bay Guardian reporters chronicled their harrying experience on separate blogs, and Witherell wrote a compelling piece for the paper that sharply dissected the local homelessness situation.

The two discovered firsthand that despite the presence of empty beds cross the city, a breakdown in communication among a network of shelters means night after night people are forced either to doze fitfully in the equivalent of a waiting room or to find an empty patch of sidewalk. It took Cohen five days to find a bed. When they did successfully navigate the confusing shelter system, the reporters were often met with terrible smells and grudging staff, only to be briskly ushered out into the cold morning at six o’clock. The article paints a grim and honest picture of the crushing struggle so many face, and scratches at our sense of common human dignity. An absolutely essential read.


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