Posts

Myanmar’s anti-coup protesters include DIY shields, women’s sarongs in their defensive arsenal

Protesters never seem to run out of ideas, or audacity

By Global Voices South East Asia

This edited article originally appeared on the blog of a Global Voices contributor who doesn’t wish to be identified.

The death toll of Myanmar’s protesters had already reached more than 217 by Wednesday, March 17 as the military ramped up its violent crackdown on the anti-coup resistance.

The Myanmar military, led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, staged a coup on February 1 and replaced the civilian government with a “military council,” having accused elected leaders of the National League for Democracy of committing massive fraud in the November 2020 election.

Read More: Coup and resistance in Myanmar: A timeline of the first month under the 2021 military junta

The military has been conducting nightly raids and arbitrary arrests. Many people have died during these detentions from beatings and torture—acts of terror intended to instil fear. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, there were 1,873 confirmed political prisoners as of March 14.

Despite the intensified violence unleashed by security forces in recent weeks, young pro-democracy protesters continued to show no signs of fear or slowing down their peaceful protests across the country. They even came up with different physical and psychological defence strategies to deter the riot police.

In Yangon, people set up protest stations in their own neighbourhoods with makeshift defence barriers, rather than going to a massive gathering point as protesters had done in February. The barriers, made of local resources such as sandbags, large trash bins, concrete blocks, bricks and even large PVC pipes, were meant to slow down the soldiers while protesters retreated to safety.

Frontline protectors, mainly local youths, are often the first line of defence. This is a dangerous spot since their DIY shields, made of plastic, wood, or iron from recycled barrels, do not protect them from live ammunition. Wearing DIY vests and construction hats, they risk their lives to buy some time for other protesters to escape before the arrival of police and military forces. The riot police are mostly soldiers dressed in police uniforms. Many frontline protesters were violently beaten [Warning: VIOLENT IMAGERY] or tortured [GRAPHIC IMAGERY] during detention.

Tear gas bombs are defused by frontline protesters by using wet blankets and water bags that have been prepared by residents of the neighbourhood. They also use improvised gas masks, goggles, and other protective gear.

Demoralizing the coup leader

Protesters have been placing pictures of Min Aung Hlaing on the streets or on the ground in front of defence barriers based on the belief that soldiers stepping on the face of their leader could be accused of showing disrespect. This tactic aims to slow down the soldiers because they would have to remove the pictures first before attacking protesters. Some protesters put pictures of the general on their shields hoping that soldiers would not shoot directly into the face of their leader.

The tactic worked for a few days as soldiers tediously removed images of the general before advancing toward the protesters. As more crackdowns happened, the tactic has become less effective as riot police ignored the images. The footage of a soldier deliberately goose-stepping on the general’s face has become viral.

In Myaung Mya and other cities people placed pictures of the general on tombs as a way to demoralize the coup leader.

ထဘီ ခံတပ်: Women’s sarong defence line

ထဘီခံတပ် (“Hta-main-khan-tat”), which means “women’s sarong defence line,” draws from the superstition that male soldiers who go under a clothesline used for women’s clothes, particularly women’s sarongs (ထဘီ/hta-main) and underwear, would fall in battle.

The idea comes from the deep-rooted misogyny within Myanmar’s military that regards women or women’s bodies as being inferior or impure. Myanmar’s military subscribes to the patriarchal superstition that women’s sarongs impair the virtue of men (ဘုန်း or “Hpone”), and thus, soldiers will lose protection in battle.

Indeed, soldiers stopped and tried to remove the clotheslines of women’s sarongs on the streets before they moved forward.

In some cities, protesters have gone as far as publicly putting Min Aung Hlaing’s pictures on women’s underwear as well as menstrual pads.

While these moves are welcomed as effective ways to slow down, people were also urged not to promote misogyny. A Twitter user pointed out that while battling against the violent military, protesters must also battle against internalized sexism.

It is awesome that we are using sarong clotheslines to fight back the extreme patriarchy of the terrorist [military council]. But we must also understand among ourselves that sarong clotheslines are there to protect people and they are not there to be inferior.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, Myanmar women protesters marched in front of a rally holding up sarong flags to fight both the military dictatorship and society’s misogyny.

On social media, young men also posted pictures of themselves wearing women’s sarongs on their heads and holding up three fingers to symbolize their rejection of the idea about ဘုန်း (“Hpone”) or male virtue.

An activist, Aung Myo Min, wrote about the opportunity to fight both the dictatorship and misogyny.

Translation:

The words that my grandma used to say when I was young now became true. She said “don’t low down on women. We will raise our hta-main (sarong) flag.”

This is the day we break down both the military dictatorship and the beliefs that sarongs are inferior and women are weak.

Today..

International Women Day

08–03–2021

Original:

ငယ်ငယ်က အဖွားပြောပြောနေတဲ့ မိန်းမတွေကို အထင်မသေးနဲ့.. ထမီအလံထူပစ်မယ်ဆိုတဲ့ စကား လက်တွေ့ဖြစ်လာပြီ….

ထမိန်ဆိုတာ ယုတ်ညံ့တယ်…

အမျိုးသမီးဆိုတာ ပျော့ညံ့တယ်ဆိုတဲ့အတွေးအခေါ်ဟောင်းတွေကို စစ်အာဏာရှင်စနစ်နဲ့အတူ ရိုက်ချိုးပစ်တဲ့နေ့…

ဒီနေ့…

အပြည်ပြည်ဆိုင်ရာအမျိုးသမီးများနေ့

၈-၃-၂၀၂၁

Avoiding confrontation with military forces

In some cities like MyitkyinaNyaung Oo and Dawei, protesters picked unusual times such as five or six in the morning to avoid the riot police. Night-time prayers and protests have also been organized across the country. Some cities also tried “guerilla protests” in which protesters evaded crackdowns by showing up on different streets from where riot police were deployed.

Meanwhile, some held protests in rivers where protesters rode on boats, or in farms, while others climbed mountains to protest.

In some cities, a “peopleless protest” was done by leaving placards and other protest materials on the streets. In Mindat, a “completely silent protest” took place where nobody came out on the streets and markets were closed for the whole day.

Ethnic armed groups on the side of civilians

In some states, ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) stepped in to protect the protesters. One of the EAOs, the Karen National Union (KNU), has announced that it will protect civilians from the military.

Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front (KNPL) came and protected the protesters in Loikaw, Kayah state, on March 13.

Civil defence force

Despite the atrocities perpetrated by the Myanmar military, protesters have not resorted to retaliation as the majority continued to uphold the non-violent principle of the movement.

However, with the alarming rise of the daily death toll of protesters, some have called for the formation of a preemptive strike force like a civil defence force to fight back against violent oppression. Since March 13, protesters in Yangon and Taunggyi have raised black flags as a sign to retaliate or strike back if violent crackdowns continue.

The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, which was established by ousted elected members of parliament, announced on March 14 that protesters and civilians, in general, have the right to lawfully use other means of defence against the armed terrorists, i.e. the military.#

= = = = = =

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

‘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.