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    Southeast Asia
     Oct 6, 2007
Myanmar turns cameras on dissidents
By Richard Ehrlich

BANGKOK - Myanmar is apparently using photos sent to websites, television stations and other media to arrest protesters, while at the same time praising China's 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown which turned foreign news videos into virtual wanted posters to capture dissidents.

Myanmar security forces have detained over 2,000 people in the wake of last week's popular unrest and military crackdown. The authorities claim to have already released over 680 of those



detained, but there are new reports of continued arrests. "Residents say military trucks patrol neighborhood streets during the night with loudspeakers broadcasting warnings: 'We have photographs. We are going to make arrests'," the Thailand-based, Irrawaddy magazine and other news organizations reported on Wednesday.

Myanmar's junta employed camera-wielding security forces during September's pro-democracy marches while harassing and assaulting independent journalists who tried to cover the unrest. The regime appears to be also gleaning the faces and identities of protesters from countless video and still photos shot in Yangon by journalists, bloggers and local residents who used cell phones, e-mail and websites to transmit pictures to the outside world during more than two weeks of public marches.

Bold, shouting and angry faces of Myanmar citizen protesters appeared on television screens, websites and news publications worldwide, attracting emotional international support and a seemingly insatiable demand by the outside world for more and more images. The Internet community, global media and world leaders gleefully praised the stunning use of cyberspace as a powerful way of showing the outside world Myanmar citizens demanding for democracy in their closed and repressed country. Now these images are being used against the protesters.

The Myanmar authorities' use of photos to hunt people echoes China's June 1989 crackdown on a student-led mass protest in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, when Chinese security forces killed hundreds of people. China quickly captured and punished several fugitive protestors, thanks partly to foreign broadcasters who beamed unedited video news feeds through Beijing's government-run satellite transmitters to editors in newsrooms overseas.

For example, televised pictures of a Chinese man on the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)news network who complained about China's military killing civilians at Tiananmen Square, soon appeared on Chinese government-controlled television broadcasts alongside warnings that he needed to be caught.

Within days, Xiao Bin, a factory sales chief from Dalian city, was seized and shown on Chinese state television saying his ABC interview was a criminal activity and apologizing in fear. ABC's staff condemned China for turning their news footage into incriminating evidence against Xiao Bin, but it was too late.

Without explicitly mentioning Tiananmen Square, or China, the Myanmar regime indicated it wanted to copy the 1989 crackdown because Beijing became rich by enforcing stability. "A civil commotion in a big Asian nation in 1989," was the euphemistic phrase used by the Myanmar government's New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Tuesday, apparently indicating Tiananmen Square.

"As the big Asian nation was able to solve the problem at its initial stage, to prevent it from spreading, the nation has now become an economic power. If the [Chinese] nation failed to solve the problem at its initial stage, its peace, stability and progress will not reach the present stage," the paper said, apparently supportive of the way Beijing's brutal suppression created enough stability to attract the Olympic Summer Games next year.

US president George W Bush, meanwhile, is a "hypocrite" to complain about Myanmar's crackdown, the paper said. "About 100,000 people staged a protest in Washington calling for an end to the Iraq War. Of them, about 200 were arrested" on September 15," the paper said on Wednesday. "The [Washington] police also beat those who led the protest," the New Light of Myanmar said.

Washington's police, some wearing riot gear, arrested at least 189 people among the several thousand who marched to the Capitol in Washington DC, where a handful of protesters and police were injured, according to US news reports.

"If American President Bush accepts that the arrest and beating of his people who got involved in the protest is a matter of enforcing the law, why can't he accept that Myanmar should take such action against saboteurs who created unrest in the nation with the intention of harming peace and development - at the instigation of certain foreign countries - as a matter of enforcing the law?"

Bush's wife, meanwhile, trumped Myanmar's editorial rhetoric when she called for Myanmar troops to turn traitor against the regime, disobey the military's chain of command and join the pro-democracy movement.

"I want to say to the armed guards and to the soldiers [in Myanmar]: 'Don't fire on your people. Don't fire on your neighbors. Join this movement'," First Lady Laura Bush said in a September 26 radio interview broadcast into Myanmar by the Voice of America (VOA), which is financed by the US government.

The head of VOA's Burmese language service, Than Lwin Htun, told a Congressional Human Rights Caucus in Washington on October 3 his "personal views" were that the crackdown "reminds me of my days in 1988, when I was a student activist in Burma [Myanmar], and the government was saying only 200 or so so-called 'looters' had been killed, but my colleagues and I knew for sure that over 3,000 peaceful demonstrators had died."

Than Lwin Htun said his sources in Yangon "have already published the names of 138 people who have perished at the hands of the army last week". Myanmar's junta has said that only 10 people died in the clashes. After crushing the 1988 insurrection for democracy, the military regime later changed the country's name to Myanmar, which the United Nations has recognized, but the United States has not and still refers to the country as Burma.

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.

(Copyright 2007 Richard S Ehrlich.)


China's media cautious on Myanmar (Oct 5, '07)

Myanmar's blogs of bloodshed (Sep 29, '07)

Burning down Myanmar's Internet firewall (Sep 21, '07)


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