RANGOON — A well-known cartoonist based in Rangoon appears to have been blocked from using Facebook after his personal account was linked to a comic poking fun at the incoming government.
S Tha Htoo, known by his pen name Maung Maung Fountain, told The Irrawaddy his account had been inaccessible since Sunday, though at time of writing he had not received any email notification from the social media site alerting him of irregularities. Facebook was not immediately available for comment.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, 48-year-old Maung Maung Fountain said he believed his account was flagged by other users because of his latest cartoon, which depicts a woman in a red dress holding a crown, hovering over two young boys.
The boys in the cartoon say to the woman, who appears to be an abstract reference to Aung San Suu Kyi, “You said what you wanted to do, but you got angry when we said what we wanted to do.”
Maung Maung Fountain said he had received some negative commentary after a Facebook user shared his cartoon and identifying him by the name he uses on his personal Facebook account. Shortly thereafter, the account was blocked, leading him to believe that other users had flagged him for inappropriate content.
The cartoonist admitted that his illustration referenced a recent upset within the National League for Democracy (NLD), Suu Kyi’s party, which won a Nov. 8 election and is set to assume power next month.
Suu Kyi has been tight-lipped about her party’s plans for governance, and has drawn controversy over her reaction to lawmakers that had requested ministerial positions.
Maung Maung Fountain, a regular contributor to The Irrawaddy and other local journals, said the incident was “totally unexpected” during the transition period, when he expected to see freedom of expression advance in the former authoritarian state.
“It wasn’t even a personal attack,” he said. “During the time of the military junta, we fought with our pens much harder than we do now.”
Expressing his concern that online reactions to his work had sparked vitriolic debate, Maung Maung Fountain said he hoped that online intimidation would not prevent the next generation of satirists from taking a firm position on current affairs.
Burma has a rich history of political cartoons, dating back to the early 20th century. Under military rule, drawings were the sharpest tool of quick-witted dissidents, and the tradition has stayed strong through decades of censorship.
Maung Maung Fountain said he believes political cartoonists play an important role in democracies, even those that are more developed. The tradition, he predicted, will not easily die out as Burma becomes a more open society.
Unfamiliar with the Internet and social media until 2013, Maung Maung Fountain has been active as an artist for decades. He took up his pen a year before the 1988 student-led uprising, and has since developed a broad portfolio of cartoons about politics and social ills.