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Myanmar crackdown intensifies as air strikes lead to more killings and displacement

46 children have died during the protest crackdown and air strikes

By Global Voices South East Asia

This article originally appeared on Medium and was written by a blogger who doesn’t wish to be identified. An edited version is published here.

Note: This article contains disturbing images of violence.

Throughout March 2021, Myanmar’s military regime continued its brutal suppression of civilian movements that were calling for the restoration of democracy in the country since the military coup of February 1.

Since February, protests across the country have been challenging the military rule. Starting in March, the junta ramped up its crackdown on peaceful protesters.

As pressure from the ethnic armed organizations (EAO) grew stronger, the final week of March saw the bloodiest reprisals from the Myanmar military, which launched airstrikes on villages in EAO-controlled areas. As of April 2, 550 protesters, including 46 children, had been killed while around 12,900 villagers have fled their homes to escape clashes between the military regime and EAOs in Karen and Kachin states.

Below is a timeline of violence inflicted by the junta on civilians and protesters during the second half of March:

On March 19, a military operation in a small city of Aung Ban in Shan state was responsible for the deaths of nine protesters.

Starting on March 21, the regime intensified the violence in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan state. Footage shared on Facebook showed soldiers shooting protesters and torturing civilians in their homes.

On the same day, the military ramped up night crackdowns in parts of Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, and killed five people, including a 15-year-old boy. The crackdown continued in Mandalay the next day with the killing of four more people, one of whom was a 13-year-old boy.

On March 23, soldiers raided a home and shot a seven-year-old girl while she was in her father’s arms. Her 19-year-old brother was also severely hit in the head with a rifle butt and was arrested by the soldiers. These children were the first of many victims of military’s intensified attacks against the youth.

In three days of continuous violence in Mandalay, 22 people were reportedly killed.

On March 24, a nationwide “silent day” strike was organized across the country, where people “protested” by not going out on the streets while shops and markets were also closed.

“Day of shame”

On Saturday, March 27, while junta leaders celebrated “Armed Forces Day” in the capital Nay Pyi Taw, the forces of the regime unleashed the most ruthless attack against protesters causing a bloodbath in 40 cities across the country. The death toll reached 114.

That day, five children were also killed. A 13-year-old boy from Mingalar Taung Nyunt ward of Yangon was shot by riot police while he was playing on the street. His body was taken by the police. A one-year-old child was also severely injured with a rubber bullet. By that time, 29 people under 18 had already been killed by the military across the country.

In the city of Dawei, CCTV footage showed the regime’s soldiers on a truck trying to kill three civilians on a motorbike that was merely crossing the street. Two escaped but one person was shot dead.

Perhaps the most heinous crime was a military raid during a night in Mandalay when they burned a resident alive.

Before the bloodbath, the regime confirmed in a state television announcement that it was enforcing a policy of shooting people in the head, and warned that it would do more if people continue protests.

Because of this and the high number of fatalities, the international community dubbed Myanmar military regime’s Armed Forces Day as a “Day of Shame.”

The Armed Forces Day was originally known as Resistance Day when the Myanmar army expelled Japanese forces during the Second World War. Later on, the military junta changed it to Armed Forces Day, locally known as Tatmadaw Day (တပ်မတော်နေ့).

As a symbol of fascist resistance, activists asked the people to come out for nationwide demonstrations on March 27.

Continuing impunity

On Sunday, March 28, the military crackdown in the central city of Monywa, where mass protests had been going on every day, saw five people killed.

In Yangon, there were also reports of the military using live grenades in the neighborhood of Hlaing.

At night, the military launched a crackdown in the city of Pathein in the delta region amid electricity and internet blackouts.

Similarly in Yangon’s South Dagon township, the military used submachine guns during the night crackdown.

The crackdown continued in March 29 in South Dagon, where the regime’s forces used RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) launchers to break down the strong resistance of the protesters. Another person was also found with his/her body burnt at night in the street by the military (it was not clear if he/she was still alive at the time of burning). Twenty-one people were confirmed dead during the two-day clampdown.

Civilians from the city of Kalay and nearby areas, where there is a majority of Chin ethnic people, had been also putting up a tough fight against the military forces for three days since March 30. Seventeen civilians died during that clash.

Air strikes in ethnic villages

Since March 11, the KIA (Kachin Independence Army) had been attacking military bases near Hpa-Kant, a northern town in the Kachin state. The military reportedly retaliated with air strikes against the KIA.

A decade-long civil war between the KIA and the Myanmar military has been ongoing since 2011 with occasional ceasefire agreements.

The KIA claimed that it renewed offensives against the junta because of the Tatmadaw’s atrocities against civilians.

On March 23, the AA (Arakan Army) from the Rakhine state also condemned the violence of the Tatmadaw forces. This was significant because the military granted a ceasefire with the AA when the coup began, which ended bouts of intensified fighting in the Rakhine state that began in 2018. On March 11, the military council had also removed the previous designation of the AA as a terrorist group.

On Armed Forces Day, March 27, the KNU (Karen National Union) attacked and captured a military base near Thee Mutra in the Karen state.

On the same evening, the Myanmar military started retaliating with airstrikes in KNU controlled territories. Continuous aerial bombings during the weekend had forced over 10,000 people from nearby villages to flee their homes. Air attacks continued until March 30 which killed at least 20 civilians.

By March 28, the KIA had captured four military bases near the city of Hpa-Kant. The next day, the military retaliated with an air strike. More people had fled due to the fighting in the Hpa-Kant area.

On March 30, a coalition of ethnic armed groups, namely the MNDAA (Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army), the AA (Arakan Army) and the TNLA (Ta’ang National Liberation Army) released a statement saying they will defend and stand with civilians if military crackdowns continued.

Over 46 children have died in the past two months during the protests and the air strikes since February 1.

People’s defiance

Throughout the second half of March, many cities across Myanmar continued to show defiance by demonstrating in the streets.

In Yangon, having experienced inhumane clampdowns, young people continued to show up in random street lanes within neighborhoods using guerrilla-style tactics to evade military forces.

Protesters also chose unusual hours like dawn or night in organizing actions. Other protests used symbolic actions such as red balloons or flowers, without people to avoid being arrested or killed.

On the night of March 31, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (a counter government body set up by ousted parliament members), introduced the Federal Democracy Charter as a roadmap to move forward the country’s political future in the fight against the brutal military regime, and declared that the 2008 Constitution, drafted by the previous junta, had been abolished.

Over the next few days, people protested by burning the constitution and also its flag across different cities.

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In another blow for Japan’s Summer Games, male chauvinist “Olympig” is forced to resign

Second high-level resignation over misogynistic remarks

By Nevin Thompson

On March 17, Tokyo Olympic creative director Sasaki Hiroshi was forced to quit after making misogynistic remarks, becoming the second high-ranking official to be pushed out of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021 because of overt sexism. Sasaki’s resignation marks yet another setback for the 2020 Olympic Games, already postponed a year because of the pandemic, and plagued with gaffes, low public support and the ongoing problem of COVID-19.

Sasaki Hiroshi, who until March had been responsible for the opening and closing ceremonies of both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, had been seconded to the position from giant advertising and public relations firm Dentsu. Sasaki stated he proposed the idea a year ago that popular comedian and entertainer Watanabe Naomi, a woman, dress up as a pig as a play on words taking the last three letters of “Olympics.” Sasaki was forced to explain his comments after investigative news magazine Shukan Bunshun broke the story on March 17.

In February, the president of the Japan Olympic Organizing Committee, Yoshiro Mori, had already been forced to resign after making and doubling down on misogynistic comments. Amid national protests, at least 1,000 Olympic volunteers quit before Mori was forced out.

Chelsea Szendi Schieder, historian and faculty member at Aoyama Gakuin University, remarked:

Proposing to cast Watanabe Naomi, the most charismatic talent working in Japan today, as the “Olympig” in the opening ceremonies is insulting, and sadly on-brand for Tokyo 2020.

Others noted that Sasaki’s proposal seemed to exemplify an out-of-touch gerontocracy that is in charge of both the Olympics and Japan itself, a country recently ranked 120th in the world for gender equity. Freelance journalist Thoton Akimoto said:

Who on earth could think dressing up Watanabe Naomi as a pig, and then making her say “I’m an Olympig” would ever be a good idea for the opening ceremony of the Olympics? It’s not only demeaning to Watanabe, but also to anyone self-conscious of their own appearance. The idea could also be perceived as being anti-women. It’s as though Sasaki confused the Olympics with a vulgar variety television show with a 60s or 70s sensibility.

In an official statement, Watanabe said there were no plans for her to participate in the opening ceremonies after the Olympics had been postponed last year, and that she was unaware of Sasaki’s remarks.

Watanabe also said:

As Naomi Watanabe, a person in the public eye, it is true that there are times when people have told me my physique is large, and I have been working with the understanding that there will be times when I will be taunted for it.

In reality, I am very happy with my figure. Therefore, I want to continue to express myself not only as someone who is large but as ‘Naomi Watanabe.’

However, as one human being, I truly hope from the bottom of my heart that the world can become a joyous place where each person’s individuality and ideas are respected and accepted by all.

Amid ongoing controversies, celebrities and other prominent people continue to pull out of the torch relay, which kicked off on March 25 in Fukushima prefecture. Most celebrities, such as beloved entertainer and television host Shofukutei Tsurube and gentleman crooner Itsuki Hiroshi cited “scheduling conflicts” when pulling out of the torch relay.

They are likely responding to public sentiments about the Games. A recent poll by news agency Kyodo found that 80 per cent of Japanese people think the Olympics should be either canceled, or postponed again due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The poll was conducted following Mori Yoshiro’s earlier misogynistic remarks in January and February, which also prompted the exodus of Olympic volunteers.

Despite the setbacks and seeming low public support for the Tokyo Olympics, organizers have insisted the Olympic torch relay will continue as planned  (a “men-only” stage was canceled after public outrage) even as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in cities along the route, including Osaka and Tokyo.

Meanwhile, Japan, with a population of 126 million people, has entered its “fourth wave” of COVID-19. More than 1 million COVID-19 cases have been identified in the country since the start of the pandemic in February 2020, and infection numbers in some parts of the country continue to increase week over week.

By the beginning of April this year, the seven-day average in Tokyo, with a population of 15 million people, identified 440 new cases of COVID-19 per day, compared to 376 and 303 on the previous two Fridays.

On April 1, Osaka prefecture, with a population of 8.8 million, logged its highest daily case count of COVID-19 since January 23, with 559 new cases. Japan’s central government, which retains overall control over regional COVID-19 management measures, has been forced to re-enact stronger measures to reduce infections.

Rising numbers of infections have alarmed not only the Japanese government but others as well. The U.S. military, which itself was implicated with the initial spread of COVID-19 throughout Japan, has identified “red zones” in the country:

Vaccines may not offer an easy exit from COVID-19. While speeding up, Japan’s vaccination program is off to a slow start, with less than one per cent of the population vaccinated so far. The government has signed deals with vaccine providers, and is focusing on healthcare workers and seniors first.

In the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Japanese government has decided to host an “athletes-only” Olympic Games. Theoretically, this would limit the number of overseas visitors to just 15,000. However, the rule would also allow families, coaches, media and sponsors—potentially 100,000 to 200,000 people—to enter Japan from overseas.

Japan’s decision to close its borders to anyone but its citizens has left some foreign residents of Japan stranded overseas. The situation is especially difficult for foreign students, many of whom have been unable to enter Japan for more than a year. While re-entry restrictions have been relaxed, it can still be difficult for students and some workers to receive permission to enter the country.

There are fears Japan will not admit foreigners, including students, visitors, and visa-holders until at least September 2021—after the Olympic Games have concluded.

The Japan Olympic Organizing Committee appears unwilling to acknowledge howregular gaffes, a pattern of outright misogyny among senior leadership and the sense the COVID-19 pandemic is being ignored have all resulted in low public support for the Games.

Instead, after news magazine Shukan Bunshun reported on the Sasaki Hiroshi’s “Olympig” comments that resulted in his resignation, Hashimoto Seiko, who replaced Mori Yoshiro on the new Organizing Committee, demanded the publication retract the story and pull all physical copies from circulation.

Shukan Bunshun bluntly refused, causing yet a new controversy for the Tokyo Olympics. Besides noting that it is in the public interest to report on a taxpayer-funded event, Shukan Bunshan concluded its response with this question:

Translation:

Who are the Tokyo Olympics for? It shouldn’t just be an “Olympics for some people,” such as the organizing committee, Dentsu, and politicians.

Original Quote:

東京オリンピックは、誰のためにあるのか。組織委員会や電通、政治家など利益を得る一部の人々のために、オリンピックがあるのではないか。

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

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.#

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For this Filipina journalist, every day is a battle with fear

A personal testimony by Filipina journalist Inday Espina-Varona

By CIVICUS

Women journalists, feminists, activists, and human rights defenders around the world are facing virtual harassment. In this series, global civil society alliance CIVICUS highlights the gendered nature of virtual harassment through the stories of women working to defend our democratic freedoms. These testimonies are published here through a partnership between CIVICUS and Global Voices.

There has been a hostile environment for civil society in the Philippines since President Rodrigo Duterte took power in 2016. Killings, arrests, threats, and intimidation of activists and government critics are often perpetrated with impunity. According to the United Nations, the vilification of dissent is being “increasingly institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse.”

There has also been a relentless crackdown against independent media and journalists. Threats and attacks against journalists, as well as the deployment of armies of trolls and online bots, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, have contributed to self-censorship—this has had a chilling effect within the media industry and among the wider public.

One tactic increasingly used by the government to target activists and journalists is to label them as “terrorists” or “communist fronts,” particularly those who have been critical of Duterte’s deadly “war on drugs” that has killed thousands. Known as “red-tagging” in the Philippines, this process often puts activists at grave risk of being targeted by the state and pro-government militias. In some cases, those who have been red-tagged were later killed. Others have received death threats or sexually abusive comments in private messages or on social media.

Rampant impunity means that accountability for attacks against activists and journalists is virtually non-existent. Courts in the Philippines have failed to provide justice and civil society has been calling for an independent investigation to address the grave violations.

Filipina journalist Inday Espina-Varona tells her story:

‘Silence would be a surrender to tyranny’

The sound of Tibetan chimes and flowing water transformed into a giant hiss the night dozens of worried friends passed on a Facebook post with my face and a headline that screamed I’d been passing information to communist guerrillas.

Old hag, menopausal bitch, a person “of confused sexuality”—I’ve been called all that on social media. Trolls routinely call for my arrest as a communist. But the attack on June 4, 2020 was different. The anonymous right-wing Facebook page charged me with terrorism, of using access and coverage to pass sensitive, confidential military information to rebels.

That night, dinner stopped at two spoonsful. My stomach felt like a sack with a dozen stones churning around a malignant current. All my collection of Zen music, hours of staring at the stars, and no amount of calming oil could bring sleep.

Strangers came heckling the next day on Messenger. One asked how it felt to be “the muse of terrorists.” Another said, “Maghanda ka na bruha na terorista” (“Get ready, you terrorist witch”). A third said in vulgar vernacular that I should be the first shot in the vagina, a reference to what President Rodrigo Duterte once told soldiers to do to women rebels.

I’m 57 years old, a cancer survivor with a chronic bad back. I don’t sneak around at night. I don’t do countryside treks. I don’t even cover the military. But for weeks, I felt like a target mark in a shooting range. As a passenger on vehicles, I replaced mobile web surfing with peering into side mirrors, checking out motorcycles carrying two passengers—often mentioned in reports on killings.

I recognized a scaled-up threat. This attack didn’t target ideas or words. The charge involved actions penalized with jail time or worse. Some military officials were sharing it.

Not surprising; the current government doesn’t bother with factual niceties. It uses “communist” as a catch-all phrase for everything that bedevils the Philippines. Anonymous teams have killed close to 300 dissenters and these attacks usually followed red-tagging campaigns. Nineteen journalists have also been murdered since Duterte assumed office in 2016.

Journalists, lawmakers, civil liberties advocates, and netizens called out the lie. Dozens reported the post. I did. We all received an automated response: It did not violate Facebook’s community standards.

It feels foolish to argue with an automated system but I did gather the evidence before getting in touch with Facebook executives. My normal response to abusive engagement on Facebook or Twitter is a laughing emoji and a block. Threats are a different matter.

We tracked down, “Let’s see how brave you are when we get to the street where you live,” to a Filipino criminology graduate working in a Japanese bar. He apologized and took it down.

After I fact-checked Duterte for blaming rape on drug use in general, someone said my “defending addicts” should be punished with the rape of my daughter.

“That should teach you,” said the message from an account that had no sign of life. Another said he’d come to rape me. Both accounts shared the same traits. They linked to similar accounts. Facebook took these down and did the same to the journalist-acting-as-rebel-intel post and page.

The public pressure to cull products of troll farms has lessened the incidence of hate messages. But there’s still a growth in anonymous pages focused on red-tagging, with police and military officials and official accounts spreading their posts.

Some officers were actually exposed as the masterminds of these pages. When Facebook recently scrapped several accounts linked to the armed forces, government officials erupted in rage, hurling false claims about “attacks on free expression.”

This reaction shows the nexus between unofficial and official acts and platforms in our country. It can start with social media disinformation and then get picked up by the government, or it leads with an official pronouncement blown up and given additional spin on social media.

We’ve officially filed complaints against some government officials, including those involved with the top anti-insurgency task force. But justice works slowly. In the meantime, I practice deep breathing and try to take precautions.

Officials dismiss any “chilling effect” from these non-stop attacks because Filipinos in general, and journalists in particular, remain outspoken. But braving dangers to exercise our right to press freedom and free expression isn’t the same as having the government respect these rights.

Two years ago, journalist Patricia Evangelista of Rappler asked a small group of colleagues what it could take for us to fall silent.

“Nothing,” was everyone’s response.

And so every day I battle fear. I have to because silence would be a surrender to tyranny. That’s not happening on my watch.#

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Inday Espina-Varona is an award-winning journalist from the Philippines and contributing editor for ABS-CBNNews and the Catholic news agency LiCASNews. She is a former chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the first journalist from the country to receive the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Prize for Independence.

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

Philippines’ ‘Paradis Island’ has a message for ‘Attack on Titan’ fans

‘We have nothing to do with Titans’

By Mong Palatino / Global Voices

Paradis Island PH is a vacation resort in the Philippines and it has no connection with the Paradis Island in the popular manga and anime series “Attack on Titan” (進撃の巨人). To make that clear, Paradis Island PH created a Facebook post assuring readers and potential visitors that there were no “titans” at the resort—and the tongue-in-cheek post quickly went viral.

The island resort is in Lake Lumot, Cavinti, located in Laguna province, south of the capital region of Metro Manila. It offers recreational activities for those who want to rent the villas on the “eco-friendly and unspoiled” private island.

Meanwhile, the Paradis Island of “Attack on Titan” is where the Eldian people have relocated and built gigantic walls as protection against giants, the “titans.” The original Japanese manga series is written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama, and the animated version of the series is currently wildly popular around the world.

This year marks the final season of the series and this probably led more people to look for information about the manga, including the setting of the story on “Paradis Island.”

Paradis Island PH acknowledged the coincidence of sharing a name with an island in a popular manga and used this to post a light-hearted disclaimer on Facebook:

Disclaimer: News is spreading online that the Founding Titan is in Paradis Island PH and that we are hiding it. For those who do not know, the Founding Titan is already with Eren Yeager, including the Attack Titan and War Hammer Titan.

We are an innocent island in a lake in Laguna and we have nothing to do with Titans. You can book events with us during the summer, we assure you that your stay will be fun and enjoyable (and no Titans will disturb you)

The Philippines’ Paradis Island. Not to be confused with Attack on Titan’s ‘Paradis Island’. Screenshot of Google Map

This post became popular and was widely shared by netizens especially those who know the manga and anime series. A local news website also published a story about the viral social media disclaimer.

Another Facebook post by the resort has also gained popularity. It refers to the soundtrack of the anime which features the Japanese word sasageyo (捧げよ, calling upon another to sacrifice oneself in battle).

Reminder to fellow citizens:

We recently learned that many are inquiring and interested to visit the lake and Paradis. We are begging you, refrain from being noisy and don’t shout “SASAGEYO SASAGEYO” if you are in the lake. It is scaring our guests and caretakers. If this persists, we will have no choice and be forced to build walls on Paradis Island.

We expect more hilarious social media updates from Paradis Island PH alluding to “Attack on Titan” especially as the series will continue to publish and air more episodes until April. #

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‘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. #

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Thailand’s democracy protests reflect rising dissatisfaction over the monarchy

By Winston Chiu / Global Voices

Despite the announcement of an emergency decree on October 15 and police crackdown on October 16, tens of thousands of Thai protesters continued protesting in the streets over the weekend demanding democratic reform.

A major grievance was directed at the monarchy as reflected in a global Change.org petition demanding the Thai king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, “permanently return to Thailand” and “discharge his royal duties as the reigning monarch in his country”.

The petition appealed specifically to authorities in Germany:

We request that The Federal Republic of Germany, pursuant to the first paragraph of Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, declare Vajiralongkorn a persona non grata within the territories of The Federal Republic of Germany. Thus, disallowing the King to continue any further residence in Germany.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended to the throne in 2016 has been a controversial figure; he has direct control over two army units and multi-billion-dollar holdings, and he spends most of his time in Germany.

A Thai activist, Junya Yimprasert, who is now residing in Europe told DW News:

The Thai people are getting angrier because he is not in Germany just as a tourist and hasn’t stopped intervening in Thai politics…He is here in Germany and continues to have influence.

The petition was blocked from Thai access by three major Internet operators since October 15 according to a report from Thai Netizen Network on Facebook. In Thailand, any critical comments about the King and the royal family could be charged under criminal code section 112 and result in a sentence of 3 to 15 years in jail.

The King has recently returned to Thailand from Germany in order to attend the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s memorial day on October 13. The declaration of the state of emergency was announced two days later on October 15, after a peaceful confrontation between pro-democracy protesters and royal family supporters near the Grand Palace on October 14.

At the confrontation spot, peaceful pro-democracy protesters were chanting with the three-finger salute as Queen Suthida’s vehicle passed. At least two activists were arrested for allegedly attempting violence against the Queen, a charge that could lead to life imprisonment if found guilty.

The three-finger salute also signifies three key protest demands: the dissolution of parliament, ending intimidation of the people which includes the abolition of royal defamation law, and the drafting of a new constitution that would lead to the reformation of the monarchy.

These demands are reflected in the following parody:

@minimonilogist translated the Thai lyrics in the Twitter thread:

King Vajiralongkorn spends most of his time in Germany with his concubines living in luxuries while the people of Thailand is facing the economic crisis which got worse than before due to COVID-19. He travels back and forth on Thai airway which is currently in bankruptcy – But with the government’s support, it continues to survive using people’s taxes. Many Thai businessmen, who have been exploiting their workers, support the King’s reign, offer their money for the king to spend as he pleases. Thailand’s annual fund goes mostly to support the monarch and the rest of the royal family (approx. $641M). This is why the people protest, we are having a crisis, many live in poverty. Yet the king is spending our taxes and abusing his power through the government and the police. We ARE ANGRY! Both the monarchy and the coup need to end! We want real democracy for the people and only for the people. Not dictatorship in a democracy disguise!

The King’s residence in Germany is a major target of complaints:

As pointed out by Bangkok-based writer Tyler Roney, Thailand is going in a historical moment of political change:

Support from the ‘Milk Tea Alliance’ and Hong Kong-based activists

To support Thai pro-democracy protesters, Milk Tea Alliance, a Southeast Asia pro-democracy netizen network, has helped raise attention from international communities using hashtags #standwiththailand and #milkteaalliance on different social media platforms.

The Thai demonstrations share similarities with last year’s Hong Kong anti-extradition protests and Hong Kong netizens are vocal in expressing their support for Thai protesters. Prominent activist Joshua Wong posted a Thai protest video made by a Thailand-born Taiwanese:

Exiled Hong Kong activist Nathan Law wrote:

Hong Kong-based freelance journalist Frances Hui wrote:

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Explore beauty and heritage in the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand while staying at home

Virtual packages give would-be tourists a taste of better times ahead.

By Mong Palatino

Movement restrictions in place across the world as a result of the COVID-19 have canceled travel plans and left entire industries devoted to tourism in tatters.

In Southeast Asia, where tourism plays an important role in generating jobs and revenues, the pandemic has already weakened the economies of many countries. Tourism numbers are minuscule at a time when they should be booming.

The Philippines’ Department of Tourism reported that foreign arrivals went down by over 54 percent to 1.32 million from January to April this year. The tourism sector accounted for 12.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2018.

According to the General Statistics Office, Vietnam welcomed 3.7 million international tourists from January to March, which was 18.1 percent lower compared to the same period in 2019.

Thai authorities said that from January to March, foreign tourist arrivals decreased by 38 percent to 6.69 million. Spending by foreign tourists accounted for 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2019.

In response, governments in these countries have established virtual tours for those who want to explore famous travel locations in Southeast Asia without leaving their homes, and to encourage tourists to visit these places in the future.

Below are some of the free online travel packages on offer.

Philippines

The Intramuros Administration (IA), a Philippine government agency, has partnered with Google Arts and Culture to create a platform that allows users to virtually visit the ‘walled city’ of Intramuros in Manila.

Intramuros was the site of the old capital during Spain’s 300-year rule over the Philippines. Visitors can explore famous landmarks like Fort Santiago and Plaza Roma.

The website also showcases the IA’s art collection. The online exhibit ‘Christ in Filipino Consciousness’ features religious images of Child Jesus that reflect how Christianity was deployed to colonize the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the Department of Tourism is also offering virtual backgrounds featuring famous tourism destinations in the Philippines which users can display in video conferences.

Screenshot of the Ha Long Bay 360 degree tour. Source: Website of ‘Stay at Home with Vietnam’

The Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board and the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism have launched the ‘Stay at Home with Vietnam’ kit that allows visitors to explore the country from a distance.

The website offers 360-degree tours of its eight UNESCO World Heritage sites which include Halong Bay and the Phong Nha caves.

Visitors can also download homemade recipes of popular Vietnamese dishes such as banh mi sandwich and bun cha (rice noodle served with grilled pork meatballs).

Several short videos feature local citizens providing tips and unique perspectives on some Vietnamese destinations.

coloring-in pamphlet that features Vietnamese icons is available for download.

Lastly, visitors can download photos of famous tourism sites that can be used as virtual background during video calls.

Thailand

Thailand has recently eased lockdown restrictions but it will take some time before international tourists are welcomed back again.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) tried to sustain interest through its #BooknowTravelsoon campaign and Amazing Thainess social media promotion.

It has launched 3D virtual tours for 13 attractions in nine provinces.

One of the virtual museums offering a glimpse of the country’s riches is the Arts of the Kingdom Museum, which features art collections created by the craftspeople of the Queen Sirikit Institute.

Jewels of the collection uploaded on social media include the ‘Model of the Mongkol Suban Royal Barge’ and ‘Egg-shaped Urn with Khankorbua Print Golden top etched’

The model of the royal barge, including the hull and the keel, are made of gilded silver. The bow is made of carved gold and colour enamel in the shape of a Garuda clutching a Naga in each claw.

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These officials flouted lockdown rules in Myanmar, Malaysia, and the Philippines

Arrest a community volunteer, then throw yourself a party

By Mong Palatino/Global Voices

Lockdown restrictions were enforced by many countries across the world to contain the spread of COVID-19, and Southeast Asia has hosted some of the harshest.

Most quarantine protocols require residents to stay at home, while mass gatherings are typically prohibited.

In Malaysia and the Philippines a particularly strict enforcement of these measures saw thousands of arrests and heavy penalties for violations from March onwards.

But a number of government officials were caught violating the very quarantine protocols they were supposed to oversee.

Global Voices looked into some of these cases, and their outcomes, which highlight how rules apply to ordinary citizens more than to powerful politicians.

We also considered a case in Myanmar that showed how religious discrimination can have a bearing on the application of the law.

Malaysia: ‘Disparity in sentencing’

Malaysia has arrested almost 30,000 people for violating its Movement Control Order (MCO). Harsh implementation was cited by authorities as necessary to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases.

But the public noticed that several politicians flouted the guidelines. The Centre For Independent Journalism compiled documented many of these instances. In one case, Deputy Health Minister Noor Azmi Ghazali posted a now-deleted Facebook photograph of him and another elected representative sharing a meal with about 30 students. Deputy Rural Development Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Mohamad meanwhile enjoyed an impromptu birthday party. Datuk Abdul Rahman Mohamad claimed that the party was a surprise sprung on him by friends and said he was unable to send them away for reasons of courtesy.

In many cases politicians and their families who got charged for failing to practice social distancing measures were slapped with light fines. Ordinary citizens, in contrast got maximum penalty fines and even jail time.

This prompted the Malaysian Bar to issue a statement about the ‘disparity in sentencing’:

The Malaysian Bar is disturbed by accounts of excessive sentences and cases of disparity in sentencing between ordinary people and those with influence, in relation to persons who have violated the MCO.

We acknowledge that the range of sentences handed down may well be within the ambit of the law, but the power of the Court to hand down sentences must be exercised judiciously in order to avoid any travesty of justice.

Philippines: ‘Mañanita’, not a birthday party’

The Philippines is cited by the U.N. Human Rights Office as another country that relied on a “highly militarized response” to deal with the pandemic. More than 120,000 people have been arrested for curfew and quarantine transgressions. Checkpoint security measures have led to numerous human rights violations.

But the government’s credibility in enforcing the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) guidelines suffered a tremendous blow after it was reported that Major General Debold Sinas, the director of the National Capital Region Police Office, benefited from a birthday bash organized by subordinates.

Sinas insisted that there was no birthday party but only a ‘Mañanita’ — a police tradition that features an early morning serenade for the chief. But the public backlash forced him to issue an apology.

Critics pointed out that Sinas and his team have enthusiastically arrested activists and community workers organizing relief activities during the lockdown. They blasted the general for holding festivities at a time when millions have lost jobs and income due to anti-pandemic measures.

Sinas was later charged for violating ECQ rules but has so far managed to retain his position. His case is still pending in the court.

A retired military officer, Ramon Farolan, advised Sinas to step down:

Your apology would take on greater meaning if you step down from your position. Accept that you made a poor judgment call, showing insensitivity to the plight of our less fortunate. Don’t wait for higher authorities to decide your case.

Myanmar: Religious event or pagoda renovation?

In Myanmar, Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein and Naing Ngan Lin, chairman of the COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee, are both accused of breaking the law by attending a Botataung Pagoda festival while the country is observing a ban on religious gatherings.

Photos uploaded on the chief minister’s Facebook page showed dozens of individuals congregating at a riverside site to observe a Buddhist rite.

Social media reactions focused on the clear breach of government guidelines, which include a prohibition on gatherings of four or more people.

Phyo Min Thein denied that the activity was a ceremony, insisting instead that it was a pagoda renovation and that the other people in the photographs were mere onlookers.

Many commented that while the government has been consistent in jailing Muslims and Christians for holding religious activities during lockdown restrictions, it has been less decisive in probing activities connected to Buddhism — the country’s most widely observed religion.

Kyaw Phyo Tha, news editor of the English edition of The Irrawaddy, criticized the chief minister’s actions:

Whatever the case, the chief minister’s actions were unacceptable. They have put the Union government in an awkward position, as its orders have been undermined by a senior official. Due to U Phyo Min Thein’s shortsightedness, Myanmar will have to pay the price internationally by being accused of religious discrimination.

Phyo Min Thein may yet pay for his lockdown scandal — a growing number of Yangon regional legislators are seeking to file an impeachment case against him for breaking the rules. #

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