Netizens in Burma, Globally Vow Student Solidarity

By Andrew D. Kaspar 13 March 2015

RANGOON — Facebook users across the world have posted their support for Burma’s student activists in a campaign that has attracted thousands of “likes,” while a local anti-hate speech movement has launched its own online solidarity effort.

The “We Support Myanmar Students” page had drawn more than 4,000 likes by Friday afternoon, with Facebook users encouraged to write messages of encouragement on a piece of paper and take a photo holding the note. Regional supporters from Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand were joined by Nepalese, Danish and American participants, with more than 50 photos uploaded by Friday afternoon.

“Now, we, all the people from around the world, would like to show that we are standing together with Myanmar Students by condemning any kind of violence and to release students and protesters. We support student demands for National Education Reform of Myanmar,” reads a message on the group’s Facebook page.

The online mobilization comes after a violent crackdown on student protestors in Letpadan, Pegu Division, on Tuesday. Police in riot gear used batons to beat back student protestors attempting to complete a 400-mile march to Rangoon that they began on Jan. 20 in Mandalay. The crackdown in Letpadan, about 85 miles northwest of Rangoon, came after a tense weeklong standoff in which authorities had blockaded the students at a monastery in the town. Police detained more than 100 protestors on Tuesday, while dozens were injured in the melee.

Meanwhile, the local organization Panzagar, originally conceived as a campaign against online hate speech in Burma, has added its weight to a growing chorus of voices denouncing the police’s heavy-handedness.

The group “is organizing an anti-violence campaign to protest the authority’s use of excessive force against student demonstrators, bystanders, and members of the media,” according to a Facebook post on Friday.

“Called the White Rose Campaign, it aims to deliver the message that there should be ‘No Violence’; Whoever the aggressor, whatever the reason, violence is violence.”

Supporters have been encouraged to adopt a white rose logo as their Facebook profile photo, with physical stickers of the image to be made available at a later date.

Panzagar was founded by the well-known online activist Nay Phone Latt, who rose to prominence in Burma during the 2007 Saffron Revolution, when he blogged about ongoing repression of popular protests by the then military government. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his anti-government activism under the draconian Electronic Transactions Law—a piece of legislation that remains on the books—but was later released in a 2012 amnesty.

While student activism and suppression thereof are not new phenomena in Burma, the violent police crackdown this week was notable in a country that is only beginning to connect its population to the Internet. In 2007, Internet penetration was negligible, and online access was tightly restricted by the military government, with websites like Facebook blocked by censors.

Within hours of the crackdown this week, social media was awash in images of the brutality, accompanied by swift condemnation among Burma’s online community and well beyond.