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Myanmar news website hacked over Muslim ‘support’

October 2, 2014

A popular Myanmar news website was blocked by hackers angry at its description of hardline Buddhist monks as “radical”, a message on the site said Thursday, accusing the publication of defending Muslims.

The Irrawaddy saw its main English-language website briefly replaced with a black screen and notice railing against a blog it ran in Burmese about Myanmar nationalist cleric Wirathu’s weekend meeting with controversial Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka.

The Buddhist-majority countries have seen rising religious hate speech and attacks on minority Muslims, with some hardline monks accused of fanning intolerance by stoking fears of a threat from Islamic jihadists.

The hackers claimed the Irrawaddy “supports jihad and radical Muslims” and was “attacking Buddhism with so called freedom of speech”.

Their notice, which was later taken down, appeared to come from Sri Lanka and demanded the publication apologise for referring to the country’s hardline Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or Buddhist Force as “radical”.

The cyber attack is the latest in a string of hacks for the Irrawaddy, which operated for years during junta rule as an exile media group based in Thailand but now also has an office in Myanmar’s commercial centre Yangon.

Editor Aung Zaw described the attack as “brutal”, but said the website was being repaired.

He said the Irrawaddy Facebook pages had been inundated with hate mail in recent days linked to coverage including the anniversary of Myanmar’s junta crackdown on 2007 monk-led protests.

“It is very clear that a team is behind the cyber attacks and cyber abuse… Clearly, they are criminals,” he told AFP.

Myanmar was gripped by harsh military rule for decades until a quasi-civilian regime took power in 2011, implementing reforms that have opened the country to the world and raised hopes of a transition to democracy.

But the country has also suffered several bouts of religious violence since 2012 that have left over 200 people dead and tens of thousands displaced, mainly Muslims.

Sri Lanka and Myanmar share a common Buddhist heritage and have close cultural ties.

The link between Wirathu and BBS has caused concern, with the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka warning the Myanmar monk’s visit last Sunday posed “a serious threat to peace in our beloved motherland”.

Sri Lanka suffered its worst religious violence in decades in June when riots broke out in the resorts of Aluthgama and Beruwala, leaving four people dead.

The BBS has been accused of instigating the attacks, a charge it denies.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.