After Myanmar coup, printed newsletter keeps protesters informed

by Beh Lih Yi | @BehLihYi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 8 April 2021 14:29 GMT

Students from a local university stage a protest against the military coup, in Dawei, Myanmar April 3, 2021. Dawei Watch/via REUTERS

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A simple newsletter printed on a piece of A4 paper is helping keep people up-to-date despite a crackdown on media and the internet following February's coup d'etat

By Beh Lih Yi

April 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Frustrated with a crackdown on print media and internet curbs, Myanmar student Ko Naing was struggling to share news of the latest protests against the military junta that seized power in a Feb. 1 coup.

So he decided to go back to basics – a simple newsletter printed on A4 paper and distributed by hand.

"The Voice of Spring", a two-page daily publication in Burmese, starting circulating this week in a bid to fight back against the generals' efforts to halt the flow of information.

"It's just on both sides of a piece of A4 paper. It's easy to carry and people can share it discreetly," Ko Naing, a journalism student, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation through a messaging app from Myanmar.

"People can fold the paper and share it. If people are seen with a newspaper they might be in trouble, that's why I'm going back to basics with a short news pamphlet," he added.

The student, 28, asked to use a pseudonym and withhold his actual location to protect his identity.

About 600 civilians have been killed by security forces since the coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an advocacy group.

More than 2,800 people are currently in detention, the group added.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup, has said the civil disobedience movement's aim was "to destroy" the country.

The junta said it seized power from Suu Kyi's government because an election held in November was fraudulent - an assertion dismissed by the election commission and international observers. It has promised to hold a new election.

Demonstrators display flags during a protest in Launglone, Dawei district, Myanmar March 26, 2021. Dawei Watch via REUTERS

'IN THE DARK'

Anger has swept Myanmar in the past two months over the coup that brought an abrupt end to a brief era of democratic and economic reform and international integration that followed the military's oppressive 1962-2011 rule.

The mostly youth-led anti-coup movement, which some protesters are calling a "spring revolution", has included street marches and a civil disobedience campaign of strikes.

As the nationwide protests raged on, the junta turned its attention to the media - revoking the licence of several independent media outlets - and drastically restricted internet access.

As of April 2, all mobile data and wireless broadband internet has been shut down, cutting off most of the Myanmar population from the internet and making it difficult for people to access information or organise rallies.

Only much slower fibre-optic and fixed-line connections remain, meaning few people can get online.

Ko Naing is among a handful of people with fibre-optic cables in his small town.

Every day, he selects the news from credible media outlets and summarises them in a newsletter layout. The publication also keeps tabs on the latest number of civilians killed or arrested.

Ko Naing then publishes it online through social media - Twitter and Facebook - every evening, and prints out about 300 copies for distribution the next morning.

"My targets are people who don't have internet access. It's free for everyone and I also ask readers to share the pamphlet with others after they finish reading," he said.

In a sign of how widely used the internet has become in the country of 54 million people, Ko Naing said the newsletter's digital version has helped spread his work beyond his own community.

Students in other cities have downloaded the newsletter and printed them out for distribution, he said, vowing to start using radio bulletins to source the news if his current access to the internet is cut off.

"Without news, we live in the dark," he said.

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Myanmar's internet shutdown: What you need to know

OPINION: Myanmar's internet shutdown: A global problem which needs global solutions

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)