Myanmar’s digital rebels have finally found a way to hurt the junta


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Jack Taylor

Jack Taylor

This story was produced in partnership with Coda Story.

A month after the Myanmar army take over In a bloodless coup and the declaration of a year-long state of emergency, daily protests continued to shake cities and towns across the country. Now, in addition to taking their anger onto the streets, an underground movement of pro-democracy activists has unleashed a host of new digital tools on the armed forces and police.

Myanmar’s strong military has always maintained a tight grip on the country’s finances by investing in a number of profitable sectors, including mining, tobacco, clothing manufacturing and banking.

The seizure of power on February 1, which toppled the elected government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has highlighted the ties with a number of companies. International and domestic companies with ties to the security forces have come under increasing pressure from activists who say the companies are complicit in war crimes committed by the armed forces.

Recent Amnesty International Investigation It found that shareholders in a classified business group called Myanma Economic Holdings Limited – which is linked to international companies such as Japanese beverage giant Kirin Holdings and INNO Group, a South Korean real estate developer – received payments of up to $ 18 billion over 20 years.

Last week, Kirin Holdings announced that it was abandoning its partnership with a brewery partially owned by Military Generals. In the current situation, The company said She was “extremely concerned” about the recent actions of the army and would “urgently take steps to put this termination into effect.”

The focus on military-related businesses has led to the launch of new mobile apps from activists in Myanmar seeking to dampen the income of the now-ruling military junta. Last week, Yangon-based Genxyz launched an app titled Method nai method (stay away). It lists 250 companies, including financial institutions, retail companies, construction companies, media outlets, and health and beauty manufacturers with ties to the military.

Way Way Nay, available on both Google Play and the Apple App Store, has been downloaded 70,000 times since its launch.

In an interview, the app’s operations manager, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was considering adding another 450 companies to the list. “We wanted to be able to show ordinary people in Myanmar how the military relates to all aspects of daily life. We thought the app would be a good way to remind people of what to boycott when they shop for products or services.”

The military’s efforts to quell the largest pro-democracy protests in Myanmar in more than a decade have led to an increasing crackdown in the past month. According to human rights groups, more than 50 people have been killed and nearly 1,700 arrested since the armed forces took control of the country.

On Wednesday, at least 38 people were killedWhen security forces shot protesters in several cities and towns across the country. Video footage taken by residents of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, appears to show security officials shooting a man at close range. In a separate incident, CCTV footage released by Radio Free Asia showed the police assaulting and arresting three ambulance workers.

The severity of the official response to the protests indicates the hardening of the military council’s stance towards the daily demonstrations that have paralyzed the economy and large parts of the country. On Thursday, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the Myanmar security forces to halt their “fierce crackdown on peaceful protesters” and urged the military to release hundreds of people believed to have been unlawfully detained since February 1.

Myanmar blacklistedLaunched March 3 on Android, it is a guide for shoppers who want to avoid companies whose sales are benefiting Myanmar’s armed forces. Blacklist Myanmar also allows users to submit new suggestions for businesses to boycott them via the in-app email function.

The creator of Blacklist Myanmar, who requested the use of the alias Red Warrior, explained that the app is designed to limit the military’s access to various sources of revenue. “In the long run, the reason they have all the power and influence is due to these companies and the brands that they were promoting,” he said.

If people do not support these brands or services, our money will not go to the military system. We can slowly reduce their monopoly influence over the country. “

Myanmar digital activists have also created apps to warn ordinary citizens and protesters about the increasing presence of police and troops on the streets. It was launched on Android on February 11th. Myanmar live map It takes real-time data from users to highlight areas with a high concentration of security personnel. The app, which has 40,000 users already, reveals the locations of water cannons, roadblocks and ambulances. All data are validated by brokers before uploading.

A live map maker in Myanmar told me that the app designers took their cues from a similar digital street map Protesters use it During the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong in 2019. He added that his team members consulted a 70-page anonymously authored document called the HK19 Handbook, widely shared by Hong Kong protesters and Translated recently English to Burmese.

Over the past month, Myanmar’s digital activists have had to overcome a series of military-imposed internet outages and disruption of mobile phone networks. On Thursday night, UK-based Netblocks confirmed the national connection to the internet I have regressed For the nineteenth day in a row to 13 per cent of pre-coup levels.

Democracy regulators in Southeast Asia say Myanmar’s internet shutdowns are similar to those used by authoritarian governments elsewhere. Sunny Chu, a former Hong Kong protester and founder of the human rights group Umbrella Union, Who sought asylum in the UK earlier this year, said the interruption of internet and data services in Myanmar was a strategy widely used by the authorities in Hong Kong. He said, “During the height of the movement in Hong Kong, there were several times that our apps were disabled.” Telegram has also been attacked several times so that the protesters could not properly communicate and organize their response. “

However, as the pace of pro-democracy demonstrations accelerates in Myanmar, the country’s digital insurgency has also sparked interest among online and offline activists in the region. In Thailand, Cambodia and Hong Kong – places that have all been rocked by pro-democracy protests in recent years – an informal but vigilant coalition of like-minded activists has used the internet to highlight the ongoing violence in Myanmar, while highlighting its own repressive regimes.

Sina Whetayawerg is headquartered in Bangkok Designer and visual activist Who first showed interest in the pro-democracy movement in his country in January 2019 when demonstrators took to the streets after ruling the country. The junta indicated The long-postponed elections will be postponed for the fifth time in five years.

Activists like Wittayawiroj have gathered on social media to spread the mockery Memes And advice Highlight Violence in Myanmar under the hashtag #MilkTeaAlliance, named after the sweet drink popular across the region. Many who follow the hashtag share a common fear of Chinese domination in the region – in Thailand, for example, support for Taiwan and Hong Kong has become a rallying point for ordinary citizens who believe their government is hostile to democracy and closely allied with Beijing.

Wittayawiroj, who works for the video production and broadcasting platform, said he learned about the current crisis in Myanmar from a Burmese coworker. He regularly posted illustrations featuring the hashtag #MilkTeaAlliance since the Myanmar coup on February 1. “I talk to them a lot and try to understand the situation people are facing. I understand that there were elections, but the army took control of them. I felt I had to draw something to help them.”

Regional experts say the #MilkTea coalition has been revitalized by regional pro-democracy movements. “When we had popular pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong in 2014 and 2019, the world was watching,” said Debbie Chan, a Hong Kong-based researcher who studies China-Myanmar relations. “Activists in Thailand and Myanmar also paid close attention to what happened in Hong Kong at that time.”

“When some Hong Kong residents witness Thai and Myanmar activists in their struggle, we see ourselves in their movements,” she added.

This story was produced in partnership with Coda Story.

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