Jeffrey Krilla, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor writes about the current crisis in Burma.
For two weeks, I, along with the rest of the international community, have been mesmerized by the images of brave Burmese monks and their supporters that have been streaming in to TV stations, flashed over the internet, and posted on blogs the world over. The thin saffron robes worn by the peacefully marching monks stood in vivid contrast to the hard riot shields held up by the riot police. Their example has inspired us—from world leaders making statements of support at the United Nations to ordinary citizens taking to the streets in solidarity in the Philippines.
Until recently, savvy bloggers and citizens armed with only camera phones and the Internet were able to capture riveting footage. They helped to mobilize and unite the democracy demonstrators and also became the eyes and ears of the world.
In the past few days, we’ve started seeing reports that the military junta is severely restricting the internet. As one of the leads on the Secretary's Global Internet Freedom Taskforce, I find these reports particularly disturbing. Internet freedom is the 21st Century’s battleground for freedom of expression. This Taskforce, made up of State Department officials, coordinates efforts to pressure governments to allow the media and democracy advocates across the globe free access to the web.
The Internet is a powerful force for freedom around the world, shedding light on human rights abuses and helping to create the free flow of information crucial to democratic development. We must work to preserve and protect this tool as an essential instrument for freedom of expression.