The Saffron Bloggers Strike Back

By Joshua Hill—— Bio and Archives--October 3, 2007

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For the past two months or so we’ve watched with a sort of horrified fascination as the country of Myanmar (Burma) has deteriorated into a mess of bloody and fatal riots, and an oppression of its people akin to the horror stories from countries like North Korea and Cambodia.

The catalyst was the dramatic increase in the prices of everyday goods and fuel, with fuel jumping sometimes a massive 100%.


This led to the veteran democracy advocates of the country to once again make their voices known. They were soon followed by the saffron clothed Buddhist monks of the country, who in their tens of thousands marched on the nation’s military.

But as The Times have opined, there is a “third pillar” to this attempted revolution that is only now being recognized, but one that is indicative of the society in which we all now live.

Five bloggers—known only as Ko Latt, Arca, Eye, Sun and Superman—have for the past year or so blogged from within their country. With the breach of peace though, they saw the chance to do more. As Superman said, “Everything is bloggable.”

So armed with digital cameras, and internet geekery fit to keep them one step ahead of the government, they set about showing the world what was happening. With the aid of internet applications helping them combat slow internet speeds and an intrusive government, they were able to upload their photos and video footage, along with their words, to the World Wide Web for the rest of the planet to witness.

In the span of a day or so, their blog hits soared from 100 a day to 1,000. They became the eyes and ears for the world, in a country where few reporters dare to tread, and only a few are known to be working undercover.
The country of Myanmar is not a ripe place for freedom of the press. A blogger who posted a photo she had taken of a protest found herself soon arrested, and her computer seized. And sadly, last Thursday, Kenji Nagai, a Japanese photographer, was shot dead.

“When things were hot on the streets, we were not the main worry,” Ko Latt says. “But as the situation cools down, they will follow us. They know who we are, they know we are bloggers, and I am afraid.”

The bloggers themselves have been halted, despite their best attempts, by a reaction from the government akin to taking a two-by-four to a spider. The ruling junta—the State Peace and Development Council—turned off the internet in Myanmar. Now, unless a website is hosted within the country of Myanmar, everything is off; that includes everything from Google to Amazon. By simply turning off the central line in to the country, the government has been able to effectively stop any unauthorized information leaking out.

So now the five intrepid bloggers who kept the world in the loop are now on the run. They are sleeping in a different location every night, and waiting to see whether the democratic movement has been crushed, or simply put on the back burner.

Myanmar has essentially been thrown back in to the digital version of the Stone Age, with no access to anything outside their own country. Let us hope that, when everything settles down, these five young geeks, typical in every sense of the word geek, manage to survive.

Joshua Hill, a Geek’s-Geek from Melbourne, Australia, Josh is an aspiring author with dreams of publishing his epic fantasy, currently in the works, sometime in the next 5 years. A techie, nerd, sci-fi nut and bookworm.


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