Blogs evade media ban in Myanmar

When the Soviet Union was under Communist rule, dissidents in Soviet countries exchanged information and commented on current events using photocopied newsletter-style publications called “samizdat” that were handed around from person to person. Now, the Internet allows dissidents and protesters of all kinds to get information out of totalitarian countries much more quickly (although there are still restrictions that authoritarian regimes — such as those in North Korea and China — can use to make Internet access difficult or even impossible).

The latest example of this phenomenon in action is the steady flow — or at least trickle — of information that has come out of Myanmar over the past week, as hundreds of thousands of Buddhist monks have taken to the streets to protest the totalitarian rule of the military junta that controls the country (formerly known as Burma). Although many of the posts are written in English, some are unreadable because they are written in Burmese, the language spoken by citizens of Myanmar (which is related to languages spoken in Tibet and China).

As a story in The Age notes, posting photos on blogs or even sending them via cellphone can put a Myanmar resident at risk of arrest, or worse. One blogger known as Moezack was posting photos of the protests regularly, according to a Myanmar native who runs a website for ex-patriates in Thailand, but his blog has since gone dark. Another prominent blog that has been posting updates comes from someone called Ko-Htike, who appears to work in the emergency department of a Myanmar hospital. He has been posting his thoughts as well as photos.

Another blogger named Mr. Jade has also been posting photos of the protests, including recent attacks on monks by Myanmar police and members of the army. According to at least one report, the army has been dressing soldiers in local police uniforms to try and disguise the fact that the military is part of the crackdown. One place Myanmar residents and ex-patriates have been getting information about the protests is a newspaper-style website called Mizzima. The site won an award from the International Press Institute earlier this year for its reporting.

Global Voices Online, a blog network spanning dozens of countries that was put together by Rebecca MacKinnon and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, has also been carrying news updates and commentary from bloggers in Southeast Asia related to the Myanmar protests. And so has another site for Myanmar ex-patriates called The Irrawaddy.

A blog called Justice and Injustice has photos pf the protests and a statement from someone named Aung Way that says: “We want three Fs. First we want freedom — we want freedom for our future; second, we want friendship — we want friendship between our army and our people; third, we want food — we want food to live peacefully.”

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