BANGKOK - Dodging a deadly military crackdown, bloggers in Myanmar are now on
the front lines providing news and photos of death and insurrection. The
military responded on Friday by closing down the Internet, signaling that a
wider and more severe crackdown on street protesters could be imminent.
At least 10 people are believed to have been killed this week in protests led
by Buddhist monks against the military government. Scores of people have been
arrested, including monks, during
demonstrations that have brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets
of the old capital Yangon since the beginning of the week.
Beginning on Monday, Myanmar authorities started to close down several public
Internet cafes in Yangon, according to international press freedom groups. The
state-affiliated main Internet service provider, Bagan Cybertech, meanwhile,
apparently on government
orders had slowed down the speed of its Internet connections, making it more
difficult for journalists and bloggers to send large-file-size photos and video
clips to outside news organizations.
Less than 1% of the Myanmar population has regular access to the Internet. But
those who at least until today had regular access were able to get around
administered blocks on internationally hosted e-mail accounts and the wider
Internet by using an array of proxy servers, proxy sites and so-called http
Their weblogs, written in Burmese and grammatically flawed English, are mostly
by people living in the commercial port of Yangon, where Buddhist monks,
pro-democracy activists and residents have been defying security forces during
more than a week of protests.
The bloggers rely on word of mouth, mobile telephones, online chat groups,
instant messaging, and first-hand experience in barricaded streets amid tear
gas and gunfire.
The best blogs provide photos, video and text updates purportedly by witnesses,
which are later confirmed by news organizations or, in some cases, can't be
Myanmar's bloody pro-democracy protests have captivated the outside world,
including US President George W Bush, the United Nations and the public, thanks
largely to the bloggers' media.
Myanmar's military regime refused to grant visas to foreign correspondents, and
blocked visas for many foreign tourists, after the mass uprising worsened
several days ago.
Burmese and foreign residents in Yangon, Mandalay and elsewhere in Myanmar -
which is mainland Southeast Asia's biggest nation - surprised everyone by
risking their lives to document the demand for liberty.
Some of the best blogs appear to be by people trying to live a normal life
while updating the world about the marches and bloodshed on the streets.
One poignant blog, by a young, "sensitive" Myanma woman who identifies herself
as Dawn, appears at www.xanga.com/dawn_1o9. "Around 1:20 or 1:30pm, I heard
someone saying that the police/army started shooting in the air," Dawn wrote,
describing Yangon on Wednesday.
"At 2:00pm, I heard that buses have stopped running on Sule Pagoda Road.
Someone from the office went out to there, and came running back when there
were shots being fired. I heard the gunshots too, but it sounded a lot like
clapping. So I went out to look," Dawn said.
"I was reading the news on a blogger's Cbox, and it said that at least five
monks were dead at Shwedagon Pagoda. My sis had already called home and told my
brother not to go to work. I called home too, and also to my father. He told me
to stay at work and not to go out."
International media said at least one person died when security forces attacked
protesters on Wednesday, though some news reports said up to five people may
have been killed.
In gallows humor, Dawn wrote: "I'll let you know when I've been shot. I'll ask
someone before I die to blog about it. If it was an instant death, I'll come to
my sister in my dream and tell her to blog about it, or I won't rest in peace."
Another popular blogger created a "prosaic collection" of vivid text and photos
at ko-htike.blogspot.com and said, "now regime open fire into these group, and
used fire engine to sweep the blood on the street".
Foreigners blogging in Myanmar include burmesedayze.blogspot.com, written by
someone who moved to Yangon in March 2006.
Before the protests, Myanmar had a strong presence on the Internet, created
over the years by Burmese dissidents and foreigners who established
pro-democracy websites in Thailand, Europe, North America and elsewhere.
In 2006, Myanmar's pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San
Suu Kyi received a MySpace.com webpage, created by Americans to publicize her
decade under house arrest in Yangon.
Other websites were created by non-governmental organizations, or received
funding from US government and other international sources, enabling additional
offline publication of magazines and radio broadcasts abroad.
These include Irrawaddy.org, which also publishes a monthly Irrawaddy magazine
in Thailand, and DVB.no, the Democratic Voice of Burma radio, based in Norway.
The most respected of those websites are now mainstream, offering reports
quoted by international news organizations.
In 1988, Burmese journalists in exile set up Mizzima.com, promoting democracy
in Myanmar through the activists' India-based Mizzima News Agency, which is
bilingual in Burmese and English, and now includes online video.
Some blogs, such as weunite-weblog.blogspot.com, collect Internet links
relating to Myanmar, and warn when the regime blocks websites and blogs.
Graffiti artists can now go to saffronrevolutionworldwide.blogspot.com for
stencil images portraying Buddhist monks - to be cut out, held against a wall,
and spray-painted, resulting in a picture of two monks walking - similar to
internationally acclaimed graffiti artist Bansky's urban icons.
"You can help make this image appear all over the world, reminding people
everywhere of the uprising in Burma and showing that the struggle for freedom
is alive everywhere," said the bloggers, based in Mae Sot, Thailand, on the
"Monks make great stencil images ... download the pattern and get your monks on
Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California. He has reported news from Asia since 1978 and is co-author of the
non-fiction book of investigative journalism, Hello My Big Big Honey!
Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His website is
www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent. With additional reporting by Asia Times