February 1, 2023 marked the second anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar. Two years on, digital and human rights violations persist, while pro-democracy activists have bravely continued to resist the regime.
In this episode of Pretty Good Podcast, Htaike Htaike Aung, the lead curator of the Myanmar Internet Project and founder of Myanmar ICT for Development Organization, recounts the military junta’s efforts to control digital spaces and how rights advocates are progressing in the fight to restore democracy. She also urges the international community to bolster support for activists by providing safe communication tools and greater media attention on Myanmar’s current situation.
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- Htaike Htaike Aung is Lead Curator of the Myanmar Internet Project, which has been tracking developments in the country’s digital space since the 2021 coup. The junta’s digital rights violations and the people’s resistance efforts are extensively documented on the platform as a resource for activists, civil society organisations, and the academe.
- She is also the founder and Executive Director of Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO), one of Myanmar’s leading digital rights organisations. MIDO focuses on ICT for development and peace, internet freedom, and digital rights advocacy. Between 2015 and 2021, Htaike Htaike ran the MIDO project ‘Real of Not’, Myanmar’s most popular fact-checking initiative.
- Since 2013, Htaike Htaike has called for platform accountability. She was part of the April 2018 “Dear Mark” campaign that drafted an open letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, eventually pushing Facebook to change its mitigation strategies in Myanmar. She also engaged with the company in the lead-up to the 2020 elections as part of the Myanmar Tech Accountability Network (MTAN).
- After the 2021 coup, the military junta has steadily enacted measures to consolidate control and silence resistance in the country:
- The military imposes internet shutdowns across various areas to censor critical voices and hinder advocates’ efforts to expose the overwhelming human rights and digital rights violations in the country.
- In 2021, the military drafted a cybersecurity law to criminalise political expressions online. In 2022, the draft was amended to include provisions banning virtual private networks (VPNs) and giving authorities censorship control on platforms such as Facebook. Digital rights activists have been vocal in their criticism of the draft law and its impact on the public.
- The junta is preparing for a military-run election set in August 2023 to legitimise the 2021 coup attempt and the military’s draconian actions. Htaike Htaike calls on the international community to denounce the upcoming sham elections.
- While activists continue to face heightened risks, a silver lining is that the digital rights community in Myanmar has become more tightly knit, and it has become easier to convince other rights groups to incorporate digital rights and digital security in their work. The resistance movement has been making strides in the fight to restore democracy and advocate for the protection of rights:
- Several groups, which include elected members of parliament, ethnic resistance organisations, state and ethnic councils, and civil society and political activists, drafted the Federal Charter of Democracy. It aims to build a Federal Democracy Union of organisations and individuals, abolish the dictatorship, and develop a people’s civilian government, among other aims. Read the Federal Democracy Charter here.
- Htaike Htaike has worked with Athan, a youth group advocating for freedom of expression while documenting the state of media freedom in Myanmar. The footage in this episode’s introduction was sourced with permission from their video Protect Myanmar’s Human Rights Defenders. Watch the rest of their videos here.
- EngageMedia’s Myanmar project aims to raise awareness of digital rights issues in Myanmar and support activists, digital rights advocates, and ordinary citizens in enhancing their digital safety:
- In ‘Pretty Good Podcast Episode 20: Resilience Amid Oppression in Myanmar’s ‘Digital Coup’, Access Now’s Myanmar Lead Wai Phyo Myint discusses the draconian cybersecurity bill and the sale of Telenor’s Myanmar telecom unit to a military-linked company.
- In partnership with VPN provider Tunnelbear, EngageMedia supports digital rights defenders by providing free VPN vouchers.
- EngageMedia publishes English translations of the Myanmar Digital Coup Quarterly produced by the Myanmar Internet Project, which documents incidents of digital oppression incidents. Read the posts here.
- To help activists enhance their digital safety, EngageMedia produced a series of infographics and videos as part of the #DigitalSafetyFirstMM campaign:
- Check out the past episodes of Pretty Good Podcast here. Watch all the video podcasts on Cinemata.