Myanmar: a difference between movements

By: spambot on 26 September 2007
Posted in Burma, Asia

As government security forces have begun a violent and deadly crackdown against the escalating protests in Myanmar, commentators are continuing to draw comparisons between these peaceful protests that began in mid-August (initially over a sudden steep increase in fuel prices), and the 8888 movement where at least 3,000 people were killed.

One distinct difference has been the impact of technologies developed in the nearly 20 intervening years. Photographs and videos smuggled outside the country have been assembled into a patchwork of powerful images as events unfold, from views of cheering protesters and protective human chains to fires in the streets and individuals being taken away by police. People described invariably as "tech-savvy" university students and youth have been taking pictures and video with cellphones and digital cameras, and squirreling them outside the country via the Internet. An AFP article states that an "army of young techies in Yangon works around the clock to circumvent the censors, posting pictures and videos on blogs almost as soon as the protests happen." In addition to blogs, images have been transmitted to overseas Burmese media outlets and dissident networks, likely from the approximately 200 cybercafes that remain open in Yangon as well as from Mandalay.Bloggers are also utilizing underground networks inside Myanmar to instruct users on how to use proxies, as well as post updates on events and, most recently, casualties (some more blogs here and here).

The impact of these vital additional streams of information may not be immediately evident to the Burmese inside Myanmar. Less than one percent of Burmese are online, connectivity can be slow and expensive, and ONI testing in Myanmar has demonstrated that the two state-owned ISPs engage in a pervasive level of filtering of political content. Many of the organizations receiving these images, including the Democratic Voice of Burma and Mizzima News, are filtered by both ISPs. The junta government also blocks free email services, including Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, Hushmail, and mail2web. While Youtube was not blocked at time of ONI testing, at least one blogger reported that Blogger was blocked. The Myanmar government has not encouraged the development of domestic blog service providers, and many of the active citizen journalist bloggers are using foreign BSPs. In addition to shutdowns in Internet service, media has also reported that the cell phones of some prominent pro-democracy supporters and journalists have been cut off.