Posts

‘You messed with the wrong generation’: Daily protests pose strong challenge to Myanmar coup

By Global Voices Southeast Asia

The civil disobedience movement launched in response to the February 1 military coup has continued to gather support across Myanmar.

Communication lines have been intermittently disrupted since the coup and internet connectivity was totally cut off on February 6. When service was restored the following day, the world saw images and reports of massive pro-democracy rallies in the streets of Myanmar cities and towns.

Global Voices interviewed local researchers and foreign residents (whose identities have been withheld for security reasons) about the protest movement. One foreign resident shared this account from over the weekend:

The civil disobedience movement asked the public to go out in the streets on Friday [February 5]. The protests swelled on Saturday. Then internet connection was cut off in the country. Protests continued on Sunday until today [February 7]. Hundreds of thousands participated in almost all regions and cities. Police are deployed in the streets but so far no arrests were made. Protest is peaceful. Meanwhile the Than Pone is still being done every night at 8PM.

Than Pone—which means “iron buckets”—is the name given to the banging of pots to ward off evil spirits. Since the coup, collective pot-banging takes place  three times a day in some areas: at 8am, 2pm, and 8pm, for a total of 15 minutes.

Local researchers told Global Voices that many internet users “got pissed off that the internet was shut down and joined the protest.” One researcher had no internet at home so went out to meet a friend and ended up in the crowd.

They observed that people offered the police flowers, water bottles and snacks during the protest in Yangon on February 6.

These videos shared by the researchers offer a glimpse of the large protest in Yangon, the country’s largest city:

Disinformation runs rampant during internet shutdown

Disinformation has been rampant since the coup. One of the most notorious sources of disinformation is Radio Free Myanmar, which mimics the logo and naming convention of the news website Radio Free Asia.

Local researchers noted that verifying information became more difficult when the internet was blocked:

When you don’t have internet for two days, there is no way to verify those news. Even politicians starting to believe those are rumours.

They were referring inaccurate reports circulating outside Myanmar based on discussions taken place on Chinese social media platform Weibo, such as the military’s supposed readiness to repatriate Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, or that soldiers had staged the coup to protecting the people.

The symbol of the civil disobedience campaign is inspired by the Hollywood film ‘Hunger games’ three-finger salute. Photo supplied to Global Voices by local researchers, used with permission.

The researchers also reported that some Buddhist ultra-nationalists have been attempting to mislead coup supporters by claiming that the three-finger salute widely used in anti-coup protests is in fact a Muslim gesture that means “I am the son/daughter of Muhammad.”

Civil disobedience campaign gathers public support

The disinformation appears to be a desperate reaction by coup supporters as the civil disobedience campaign gains traction. Here are some photos depicting the defiance of many groups across Myanmar:

Even Japanese beer giant Kirin was forced to sever business ties with the military after the coup.

The Burmese Ghouls, a professional esports team that rarely comments on politics, publicly condemned the coup.

In response to the week-long protests, Myanmar military authorities have banned public gatherings of more than five people in some townships. The police also used water cannons to disperse a protest in Naypyidaw, the country’s capital.

These two recent developments will certainly affect the trajectory of the protest movement in the coming days. #

*With additional reporting from Global Voices’ Civic Media Observatory project.

  • This article is published by Kodao as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Myanmar 2020 election: ‘A critical moment in the consolidation of democratic transition’

‘Structural shortcomings continue to undermine the democratic character of the process’

By Mong Palatino / Global Voices

Myanmar’s election on November 8 is described by United States-based group The Carter Center as “a critical moment in the consolidation of Myanmar’s ongoing democratic transition.” The Carter Center is one of two international election observation missions accredited by Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC).

Myanmar was governed by a military dictatorship for several decades, then transitioned into civilian rule in 2010. The 2008 Constitution, however, ensured that the military would continue to exercise political influence, including on the Parliament. The opposition National League for Democracy defeated the military-backed party in the historic 2015 general election.

The Carter Center released its preliminary assessment of Myanmar’s election process on October 13. It noted the challenges in holding an election during a pandemic and recognized the efforts of the UEC in keeping the process on track.

On the other hand, it also identified the electoral system’s “structural shortcomings”:

(…) structural shortcomings continue to undermine the democratic character of the process, including quotas for unelected military appointees in all legislative bodies, restrictive eligibility criteria for the presidency, inequalities in constituency populations resulting in unequal representation.

It also mentioned that the “discriminatory legal regulations for citizenship effectively disenfranchise several ethnic minorities, particularly the Rohingya.” Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as one of its ethnic groups.

The Carter Center’s observation mission, led by Sean Dunne, is composed of a core team of six experts and 24 long-term observers. Global Voices reached out to Dunne via email to learn more about their monitoring process in Myanmar.

Mong Palatino (MP): The Carter Center also monitored the 2015 election. How would you compare the electoral landscape during that year in relation to the present?

Sean Dunne (SD): The 2015 elections were really a watershed moment for Myanmar’s democratic transition with the opening of space for political competition and the peaceful transfer of power to the main opposition party. As is often the case with second round transitional elections, this election is likely to be more intensely contested among parties and candidates. This imposes more pressure on the election authorities to ensure a fair process in line with international principles for democratic elections.

MP: How do you plan to fulfill your mission given the pandemic situation?

SD: The Carter Center has taken a range of steps to maintain its observation efforts despite the pandemic. We were able to recruit and accredit Myanmar citizens to become our long-term election observers and have recruited foreign nationals locally and abroad to take on the short-term observer roles for the mission. We have made use of technology to assist in our virtual interviewing and engagement with stakeholders, conducting over 500 interviews so far with election and security officials, political parties and candidates, and civil society representatives.

MP: A recent news report mentioned the cancellation of elections in some townships because of security concerns. Can you comment on this?

SD: The constitution and election laws permit for the postponement of elections due to local insecurity and natural disasters. It was a recommendation of The Carter Center and other observation missions in 2015 that the criteria for these postponements be more transparent.

MP: What are some of the crucial electoral policies should the UEC undertake in the next few weeks to make the elections more free and fair?

SD: The process of elections must not only be fair but be seen to be fair. Transparency and frequent consultation with political parties, candidates and other stakeholders are crucial to the acceptance of the results. All aspects of the electoral process should be open to international and domestic observers to strengthen transparency.

MP: Do you have a message to members of the international community which are also monitoring Myanmar’s democratic transition?

SD: The second cycle of transitional elections are always vital to entrench democratic practices. These elections are an essential measure of progress. Post-election, ongoing democratic reforms need to be a priority, including adoption of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. #

= = = = = =

Kodao Publishes Global Voices articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Facebook apologizes for translating Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s name as ‘Mr. Shithole’

By Mong Palatino

Facebook issued an apology after a technical error translated Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s name as ‘Mr. Shithole’.

The error was noticed when the official Facebook page of Myanmar’s state counsellor posted updates regarding the official visit of Xi in Myanmar on 17-18 January 2020. The post, which was written in Burmese, cited several important trade and other bilateral agreements signed by Xi and the Myanmar government.

Xi’s visit highlighted China’s increasing economic and political influence in Myanmar. Its investments are both welcomed and criticized because of their social impact.

Journalists were the first to highlight the wrong translation of Xi’s name. They also noted that this was only on Facebook because Google Translate yielded a correct translation.

It took more than 24 hours before the error was corrected. Facebook also offered its apology:

We have fixed an issue regarding Burmese (Myanmar) to English translations on Facebook and are working to identify the cause to ensure that it doesn’t happen again…This issue is not a reflection of the way our products should work and we sincerely apologise for the offence this has caused.

Poppy McPherson, the Myanmar bureau chief of Reuters, posted screenshots of the translation errors:

Facebook has temporarily disabled the translation of Burmese to English posts. As of this writing, the translation option has not been restored.

Aside from the error in translating Xi’s name, a Facebook bug also prevented Kachin users from posting updates in their native language. There was initial speculation that this was related to Xi’s visit in Myanmar but it was reported as a purely technical problem. Many Kachin residents are opposing a China-funded dam project in their region.

Facebook has been previously criticized for its slow response in addressing the spread of hate speech targeting ethnic minorities in Myanmar. It has since then adopted measures aimed at combating disinformation perpetrated by state-backed accounts. #

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)


Despite the release of detained Reuters reporters, free speech remains under threat in Myanmar

By Mong Palatino/Global Voices

Media groups and human rights advocates are celebrating the release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo who spent more than 500 days in detention for their role in investigating the massacre of some Rohingya residents in northern Myanmar. But despite their release, the state of free speech in the country is still undermined by the continued detention and persecution of some artists, journalists, and activists. Consider the following cases:

Defamation case against The Irrawaddy

A defamation complaint was filed by the military’s Yangon Region Command against The Irrawaddy’s Burmese-language editor U Ye Ni over the news website’s alleged unfair coverage of the armed clashes between government forces and the insurgent Arakan Army in Rakhine State. The Irrawaddy said it did nothing but report the escalating armed clashes in the region since the start of 2019. Here is U Ye Ni’s response to the case filed by the military:

I feel sorry about the military’s misunderstanding of us. Journalism dictates that we reveal the suffering of people in a conflict area. Our intention behind the coverage is to push those concerned to solve the problems by understanding the sufferings of the people.

The Irrawaddy is a content partner of Global Voices.

Jailed for satire

Meanwhile, five members of the Peacock Generation Thangyat troupe were sent to Insein prison to await trial for their satirical performance mocking the army. Thangyat is performance art similar to slam poetry featuring folk verses with traditional musical notes and is combined with song, dance, and chants. The group was charged with violating article 505(a) of the penal code which criminalizes the circulation of statements, rumors, or reports with the intent to cause any military officer to disregard or fail in his duties.

Zeyar Lwin, one of the accused, said:

All of our cases are political issues so that they need to resolve them as political issues. And also, I’d like to say all of us need to join the work for amending the 2008 constitution being done in parliament. In my opinion all of these issues can be resolved if we can do the primary work of amending the constitution.

Zeyar Lwin is referring to the 2008 constitution which many analysts believe was designed to reinforce military rule even after the restoration of civilian leadership.

Sickly filmmaker in detention

The case of filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi also reflects the restrictions imposed on critical artists. A complaint filed by a military officer against the filmmaker’s ‘defamatory’ Facebook posts led to his arrest. Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi is the founder of the Myanmar Human Rights Human Dignity Film Festival and a known critic of the military’s involvement in politics. His supporters are calling for his release on humanitarian grounds, since he has had half of his liver removed due to cancer and suffers from heart and kidney problems. The Human Rights Film Network, a partnership of 40 human rights film festivals around the world, sent this letter to the government:

As a concerned international human rights community, we seek reassurance from the Myanmar government to ensure that Section66(d), which was meant to enhance progress of telecommunications, will not be used to silence the voice of Myanmarese civilians seeking to voice their opinions and take part in the democratic process in Myanmar.

The letter refers to the controversial Section 66(d) defamation law which has been used by authorities to charge critics, activists, and journalists.

Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi’s petition for bail was rejected by a local court. His next hearing is scheduled for May 9, 2019.

‘They should never have been jailed in the first place.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years in prison for violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The Supreme Court upheld their conviction last April with finality but they were released from prison after they were granted a presidential pardon during the country’s traditional New Year.

Groups like the Southeast Asian Press Alliance welcomed the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo but they also highlighted the injustice suffered by the two reporters:

They should never have been jailed in the first place, because they committed no crime.

While we welcome this positive development, the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is proof that journalists are in constant risk of political reprisal for keeping power in check.

This article by Mong Palatino is from Global Voices, an international and multilingual news site, and is republished on Kodao Productions as part of a content-sharing agreement.