Blogs emerge in Myanmar as resistance to tyranny


October 07, 2007|By ANDREW RATNER

Anne Frank had her diary, which did not come to light until years after her death in a Nazi concentration camp.

Ko Htike has his blog, where he posted the following comment about his native Myanmar on Sept. 30, and it became available to the world moments later:

"We just got phone call with our sister living in Yangon about a few hours ago. We saw on BBC world, saying that 200 monks were arrested. The true picture is far worse!!!!!!!!! For one instance, the monastery at an obscure neighborhood of Yangon, called Ngwe Kyar Yan (on Wei-za-yan-tar Road, Yangon) had been raided early this morning. A troop of lone-tein (riot police comprised of paid thugs) protected by the military trucks, raided the monastery with 200 studying monks. They systematically ordered all the monks to line up and banged and crushed each one's head against the brick wall of the monastery. One by one, the peaceful, non resisting monks, fell to the ground, screaming in pain. ... Please tell your audience of the full extent of the fate of the monks please please."

The Myanmar government's suppression of the largest pro-democracy demonstration there in nearly a generation gained worldwide attention this month. At least nine demonstrators and a Japanese journalist were gunned down and thousands of protesters were detained.

The shutdown of Internet service there also met with outrage, but it underscored the new threat bloggers present for totalitarian regimes.

While the government controls the electronic media and daily newspapers inside Myanmar, it struggled to corral photos and videos appearing on blogs, including those produced outside the country

The latest information technologies have long been used to fight oppressive rule, from Solidarity using fax machines to pierce the Iron Curtain in the 1980s to cell phones spreading news of the Philippine elections, said Joyce Barnathan, a former foreign correspondent and editor who is now president of the International Center for Journalists in Washington. But blogs offer a quantum leap in being able to empower people inside a country and to spur the diaspora outside to aid their countrymen.

"It's really shown itself in full force in Burma because it is a closed society, and look how much came out," Barnathan said. "One picture corroborates the next. Questions you have about authenticity fade away when so much is going on."

Her organization next month will present a Knight International Journalism Award for the first time to a journalist citizen blogger, Wael Abbas of Egypt.

His blog, Misr Digital, breaks stories on protests, corruption and police brutality in Egypt, the center said. (An investigative reporter in Myanmar, May Thingyan Hein, is also being honored for her work.)

Blog reports from Myanmar can't by themselves stop a brutal regime, which has since tightened its grip on the digital communications. But their impact in shining light in a dark place makes one wonder whether atrocities such as the Holocaust or apartheid would have progressed to such ghastly extents if blogs had existed then.

Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, said she has little doubt blogging could have changed the course of the Holocaust.

"It's not that people didn't know, but the word wasn't able to get out fast enough. It might not have stopped the Nazis, but it would have alerted people to get out, not to sit like sitting ducks," said Lipstadt, who has criticized the American press coverage of the persecution of European Jewry by the Nazis. "People were, of course, less dependent on pictures then, but the visual images are very powerful. It's not just information. It's from the scene."

Andrew Ratner, a former technology reporter, is Today editor of The Sun.

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