Burma’s military junta has launched a cyber-offensive against websites operated by exiled opposition democrats.
“I think they are preparing for the general election. They are now testing it,” said the DVB’s Toe Zaw Latt.
The junta has received technical advice on conducting cyber-attacks from other authoritarian regimes
“Although the government blocks news websites, people here were logging onto the websites through proxy sites,” said one observer. “So the government found a way to deal with that. First they sought help from Russia and China. Now they have been working with some hackers from Singapore since six months ago.”
The attacks provide further evidence that authoritarian regimes are becoming more aggressive and pro-active in combatting cyber-activism.
Like many other democracy and civil society groups, Burma’s exiled democrats have used new social media to circumvent domestic censorship and communicate with supporters inside the country.
Sunday was an important anniversary for Suu Kyi, writes Jared Genser, her international counsel:
But there were no celebrations. There was little to commemorate. Not her husband’s funeral, her children’s weddings or the birth of her grandchildren; she has missed all of these. As of Sunday, Suu Kyi has spent 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest.
There is speculation that the ruling military junta may release the Nobel laureate after the November 7 elections, the first to be held since 1990, when Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy secured a large popular majority. The junta annulled those results and has held power ever since.
“Regardless of Suu Kyi’s release, the United States must not recognize these elections as anything but a charade,” writes Genser, president of Freedom Now and a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.
“There is no sign that there will be legitimacy associated with this process,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell has said, adding that “recent reports that balloting will be deeply restricted in ethnic areas is worrisome.”
Observers are closely monitoring the poll’s impact on the country’s restive ethnic minority groups, which comprise about a third of the population.
The Obama administration should fully implement sanctions, appoint a special coordinator on Burma, and take the lead in pressing for a United Nations commission of inquiry into the regime’s atrocities, Genser argues. But it must also urge U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to restart direct talks with the junta.
“It is only through a facilitated process of tripartite dialogue among the junta, Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy and the country’s disparate ethnic groups that any real reconciliation and progress toward democracy will be made,” he contends.
The poll represents “an effort to cover the regime with a thin veneer of democratic legitimacy,” according to Brian Joseph, the NED’s senior director for Asia.
He echoes the call for a balanced approach that reflects both the U.S. interest in promoting democracy and human rights with the need to engage the regime.
“The United States should be flexible in its approach and steadfast in its principles. But there’s no need to let the Burmese junta dictate the agenda,” he has argued.
Some argue that the regime is immune to international pressure, but November’s poll is itself a sign of the generals’ vulnerability, writes Waihnin Pwint Thon. Her father, Ko Mya Aye, is one of the celebrated Generation 88 student leaders who mobilized up to a million people on 8 August 1988 to protest against the junta, actions which earned him a 65-year jail sentence.
“India wants to keep China at bay by trying to be equally friendly with the Burmese regime, not by trying to export its democracy to a weak neighbor, a policy which the Indians fear would push the Burmese military even further into the arms of the Chinese,” notes Asia analyst Bertil Lintner.
Claims that the election may mark the start of a gradual process of liberalization led by reformist elements in the military are far-fetched.
“This thesis presupposes that a younger, more liberal generation of army officers exists. The bitter reality is that it doesn’t,” Lintner argues. “Lower and middle-ranking army officers remain immensely loyal to the leadership, knowing full well that they can only rise to prominent and privileged positions by showing that they are even more hard-line than their superiors.”