As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) and the ruling, army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) have gone head-to-head in recent weeks, a great number of smaller parties representing Myanmar's multiple ethnic minorities are also contesting the elections.
We've been working to curate and feature videos on this historic and challenging event, and here we highlight some reports from our local partners Kamayut Media, which may help provide a better understanding of the situation on the ground.
Suu Kyi Campaigns in Rakhine State
NLD signboards were destroyed in Rohingya-majority Rakhine State a week before Daw Aung San Suu Kyi began her three-day campaign there. Even if her party wins, she is barred by the constitution from becoming president, while a quarter of legislative seats are reserved for the military.
During her trip, Suu Kyi called for democratic change. "This country will be developed only when the system is changed. To change the system, we need to change the government.", she told the crowds present.
National Blueprint Advantageous for Arakan State
The Arakan Patriot Party’s (APP) leader, U Maung Maung Saw, believes that having a national blueprint to develop the Arakan State is an advantage his party has over other parties. Like the NLD, APP's signboards have also reportedly been damaged.
The party believes it will win all 16 constituencies that the party is contesting. Another powerful party in Rakhine is the Arakan National Party (ANP), which expects to win a majority of state and Union constituencies.
US Warns Myanmar to Behave
Ben Rhodes, one of US President Barack Obama's top aides, warned the Myanmar government that the use of religion in politics violates Myanmar's constitution and could lead to instability and violence.
Hardline Buddhist organisation, Ma Ba Tha, have organised anti-Muslim rallies in support of laws seen as targeting the country's Muslim minority, stoking communal tensions in the Buddhist-majority country just ahead of elections. The leader of the organisation has also declared that he will be voting for current president, Thein Sein.
Watch more video updates on the Myanmar election here.
Students and Papuan guests entering the theatre.
Many students have been eagerly waiting to watch the films.
There was a vibrant Q&A session after the screening.
The audience packed the venue.
Karon, one of the Papuan Voices II alumni, received an appreciative gift from the organisers.
Karon shared his experiences during and after production.
Papuan Voices is a video advocacy initiative working with Papuan activists to more effectively tell their stories to the world. Watch the entire collection here.
Vagueness and Obscurity in the policies could pave the way to the abuse of civil rights.
According to the speakers, there are sections in the Computer Crimes Act where terms are not defined. For example, "ISP liability" does not define the different types of service providers, but rather has blanket and strict liabilities defined.
In Section 20 of the Computer Crimes Act which that tackles website blocking, the guidelines for what kind of content will be blocked is unclear. Ideally, according to one of the speakers, there is a process that needs to take place before a website can be blocked — the public complains about content that is against "public morality", the ICT Ministry reviews the complaints and decides if a website should be blocked, and then the case goes to court, which will then have the final say in censoring a website. In the current approved draft of the Computer Crimes Act, censorship of websites is now under the sole discretion of the ministry — with no course for appeal.
National Security posing as Cyber Security.
The Cyber Security Act, according to one speaker, conflates 'cyber security' — the protection of the data system which allows for secure transactions and communications — with 'national security', which is the protection of the state.
Furthermore, the act doesn't properly define what "critical infrastructure" means. In cyber security, "critical infrastructure" means the services necessary to run networks and to transmit data. This refers to "access providers", "hosting providers" , and "cache providers" as defined by European Union policies on cyber security.
In Thailand, the lack of definition, or the broadness in defining what "critical infrastructure" means results in the Cyber Security Act's scope extending beyond internet communications and networks, to include all communication channels in its purview.
More alarmingly, the Cyber Security Act requires the creation of a National Cyber Security Committee that monitors such communication channels with the primary goal of national security, rather than for the purposes of securing the data networks and systems to allow for business transactions to thrive.
The pending laws don't encourage a vibrant digital economy in Thailand.
The heavy obligations create a "self-censorship" environment for Thailand-based inernet providers. This results in Thai internet users opting for non-Thai providers, which in turn, impacts the digital economy in Thailand.
The pending laws endanger civil rights in Thailand.
These laws are vague and broad with heavy penalties for all providers and citizens, and their implementation rests of the sole discretion of the ministry and its committees. Committees that don't represent the Thai citizenry, according one of the speakers.
That will mean giving the state too much power over what citizens can publish online.
Following RightsCon, EngageMedia wanted to contribute by creating spaces for deeper conversations and strategies on pressing digital rights issues both at a national and regional level. One such meeting was conducted in Jakarta in collaboration with SAFENET on 28 September 2015 , an Indonesian digital rights advocacy non-profit. The one-day round-table discussion included representatives from organizations working on issues such as policy advocacy, anti-corruption, youth issues, LGBT, women's rights, internet rights, and media freedom.
The discussion opened with a discussion on what digital privacy meant to the participants. Based on the trend how openly people share their private and personal information on the internet, we found that many people don't fully understand or care much about their privacy. The assumption was that people don't understand the dangers of releasing such personal information, although there are a number of recently reported cases of privacy breaches and abuse faced by those who use transportation applications such as Go-Jek.
The second session was a brief presentation by EngageMedia on privacy, elaborating the concept of privacy, digital communication models, data, surveillance, types of privacy violationa, and the actors involved.
This was followed by representatives from ELSAM and WikiDPR on the draft bill on Privacy in Indonesia, some of its problematic content, and the challenging process of advocating on the bill. There are not many organizations or individuals at the event involved in advocating on the bill even though a lot of support from civil society is needed to get the bill "right" (one that actually protects the privacy of the citizens) before being passed and enacted. This is especially crucial given we have 16 regulations in various laws that allow authorities to conduct surveillance (tracking, digital conversation tapping and data retention) on citizens with or without court orders.
At the end of meeting participants agreed on taking up the issues collectively by setting up a working group that will share relevant information and knowledge and conduct shared to raise awareness and initiate action on digital privacy in Indonesia.
Dateline Irrawaddy: A discussion on the USDP and NLD campaignsSocio-political talkshow, Dateline Irrawaddy, discusses the varying campaign strategies of the ruling party and the opposition. The opposition NLD has claimed that it will ensure equal rights for all nationalities and religions in the predominantly Buddhist country if it wins.
The pledge came following a declaration by prominent monk Wirathu of the Ma Ba Tha nationalist Buddhist group, who said that the group will endorse the ruling USDP.
Hardline Monks Claim Victory as Myanmar Muslims Face Poll Exclusion
The aforementioned hardline group Ma Ba Tha recently publicly celebrated the passing of four controversial "Protection of Race and Religion Laws" purporting to protect the Buddhist religion.
This raised fears about the intermingling of religion with politics before the elections in a country that has suffered major inter-religious violence in recent years.
Voter List Errors
The NLD has criticized the Union Election Commission (UEC) for the many existing errors on voter lists, including the names of deceased persons, omissions of current voters, and incorrect birth dates, names and national registration numbers, fearing that these could hurt its chance for victory in the elections.
Earlier this year, Dateline Irrawaddy conducted a video interview with U Tin Aye, Chairman of the UEC on the credibility of the polls this year. But if the above videos are any indicators to go by, it seems that Myanmar's road to democracy remains a long and difficult journey.
Watch weekly video updates on Myanmar's election here.
In late September, the Papuan Voices II collection was screened in collaboration with the Faculty of Gender Studies at the University of Malaya. Students, lecturers, and activists were invited to watch the series of advocacy videos on West Papua, which were produced by Papuan activists after being trained by EngageMedia.
The post-screening discussion, led by myself from EngageMedia and moderated by Alicia Izrahuddin from the Faculty of Gender Studies, showed that not much is known about West Papua in Malaysia other than Freeport, Raja Ampat, the independence movement and head-hunting.
One of the audience members mentioned that Malaysian companies also invest in West Papua, and so it's not only Freeport that's “colonizing the land”. He added that land issues are the biggest problems there after HIV/AIDS.
Other attendees were very intrigued by how Papuan people look at modernity, and wanted to know more about gender issues in West Papua after watching the films 'Mutiara Dalam Noken' and 'Mama Mariode', expressing that such stories are rarely heard coming from there.
The event brought lesser discussed but equally critical Papuan issues such as education, healthcare, and land rights to a targeted audience, as opposed to the focus on politics, violence and the independence movement in the mainstream media.
In 1965, based on rumors of members of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI/Partai Komunis Indonesia) kidnapping and killing army generals, and the party's Indonesian Women's Movement (Gerwani/Gerakan Wanita Indonesia) erotically dancing around their dead bodies, a concerted campaign was carried out by the New Order government to increase social and political tension and to provoke people to take revenge against PKI's members and supporters. Some believed in the rumors without any alternative channels of information, and were ready to attack the PKI physically and psychologically.
Roughly three weeks after the death of the generals in Jakarta, a wave of mass killings began to take place all across Indonesia. In the third week of October 1965, massacres started occuring in Central Java, followed by similar incidents in East Java in November, and on the island of Bali in December. Sporadic killings also happened in other parts of the country, such as in North Sumatra and East Nusa Tenggara.
A few months into 1966, at least one million Indonesians were killed, with scores more being imprisoned and tortured. The victims included members of the PKI, ethnic Chinese, as well as trade unionists, teachers, civil society activists, leftist artists and others who certainly did not have any connection with the September 30 Movement or the PKI.
A documentary film with narratives derived from the public, the victims or even the perpetrators is increasingly being used for advocacy. After the collapse of the New Order, several documentary films on the tragedy of 1965 have been produced for use in advocacy. These films feature narratives derived from the public, the victims, or even the perpetrators, and the narrative history produced through them is a multi-dimensional and multi-narrative one, as the writing of history requires not only written sources, but also oral sources.
Below is a selection of some films on the 1965 tragedy from the victims' point of view. 'Jembatan Bacem', 'Jagal', and 'Mass Grave' highlight the testimonies of victims' family members who were either directly involved or who witnessed the trauma and its social impact.
Jembatan BacemJagal - The Act of Killing, the award-winning film by Joshua Oppenheimer.
The killing of six generals and one middle-ranking officer of the Indonesian Army on October 1st, 1965 was the pretext of the 1965 Tragedy. The military coup coincided with massive propaganda, where facts and data were blacked out. The press was controlled by the military news bureau, Berita Yudha, and other newspapers were banned. History became banal as it was delivered and diverted by the New Order regime.
I'd like to use Antonio Gramsci’s term, "cultural hegemony", which is equated with the "strength" of a particular regime. In this context, the hegemonic position is not only demonstrated by the ability of the New Order in the control of every public space, but also through practices of political and cultural deviation, including in education.
This hegemony exists not only in text books, but also in audiovisual media. For example, every year, all students across the country are required to watch a film about the coup d’état by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), The film, 'Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI', was directed by Arifin C. Noer and is categorized as 'documentary-drama' by analysts.
It highlights the torture of seven Army Generals by communists, and everything from the script to the visual dialogue portray communism, communists, the women’s movement (Gerwani) and all other related communities as being wicked and evil. By broadcasting the film on national television on the every September the 30th, generations born during the New Order period would only be able to perceive the idea of communism through its narrative.
You can watch the four parts of Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI below, and compare it with 'Shadow Play', a highly objective film on the event by created by independent film group Offstream, after Indonesia regained its democracy in 1998.
Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (Part 1) Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (Part 2) Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (Part 3)
Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (Part 4)
Shadow Play: Indonesia's Years of Living Dangerously
In late August, one of the participants of Camp Chindwin, our Southeast Asia Video Camp, Jessie from EarthRights International invited EngageMedia to their workshop to run a session on effective video advocacy.
Finding serious flaws relating to land rights, resettlement and environmental protection in Myanmar, EarthRights set up two schools - EarthRights School Mekong and EarthRights School Myanmar. They did have a Land Rights training workshop this year and last year, but what I attended was second of 3 documentary filmmaking workshops they are holding this year to train young activists from Kayah, Shan, Mon, and Rakhine states, as well as Yangon Division.
This workshop covered an introduction to human and environmental rights, campaigns, and storytelling for advocacy and I facilitated a dialogue leading up to it, focusing on how to make advocacy videos and what the goals and impact of films can be.
After the participants and I played some games to warm up, we started screening a video from the Philippines, 'Pangarap sa Buhay'. This film has a strong message delivered in a very simple way, and gives a example of a good advocacy video. We then discussed how advocacy videos provide a dynamic and inventive platform to tell your story and about your world.
I then shared tips on producing community video and we watched a series of community videos from the Southeast Asian region. After watching each video, we discussed them in groups based on three questions: What is the main message of the video? What is its target audience? How can we generate our own story ideas like this?
The participants pondered on the last question and shared different story ideas based on the Myanmar context. For example, when we screened 'Masters of our Land' from the Papuan Voices 2 collection, we talked about similar land grabbing issues in Myanmar and the results were amazing. They were inspired and came up with various story ideas to highlight land grabbing issues and we discussed how to develop those ideas step by step.
One of the participants asked during the discussions. "We often have to work on issues that are considered sensitive by the government, so how can we protect ourselves when working on such topics?". A conclusion that we arrived at is to "find a balance in your film".
I shared that I love being a filmmaker and my passion for fieldwork and the outdoors carries me through any hurdles I may face. But news of tragedies every year keep me asking, “How can this still be happening? What is the balance, and should there be a balance in what I present? How can I find joy in being a documentary filmmaker in Myanmar with all the challenges that filmmakers face from the state and public?" I continue struggling to find the answers to some of those questions.
The day ended with my presentation on mobile video production. Documentary film making is starting to become popular in Myanmar, and we can start producing short films even on mobile devices and disseminate them on social media platforms. I shared some examples of good films made on mobile devices and also shared mobile editing apps like Splice and StoryMaker.
Both video advocacy and community video are powerful methods through which filmmakers are able to more creatively express and share their ideas, which are essential components for learning and growth in Myanmar's political climate. The best way to foster creativity is to show audiences how much the human mind is capable of imagining. That's something I learned from the EarthRights workshop in Myanmar!
An alumni of Papuan Voices, Martha Langowuyo has been active in SKP Jayapura as a media volunteer for the past several years while finishing her studies at Cendrawasih University. During the program, she has gained various technical and non-technical skills from our staff and also from a mentor who was assigned to assist Martha in video production.
We conducted training in camera handling by shooting and recording daily activities in some of the major streets in Yogyakarta. After shooting, we evaluated all the footage and discussed on how to improve it. We also combined aspects of journalism within the video production framework, where Martha learned about journalism ethics, informed consent, and planning and conducting an interview.
Even since the application process for the residency, Martha had already outlined her issue of interest and video production plan. She was keen to produce a video on access to education for Papuan women, using the case study of Papuan students in Yogyakarta.
On the first day, we discussed how her idea could be developed further and worked on a more detailed production plan which lasted up until her return to Jayapura at the end of the month.
During her stay in Java, Martha also visited six NGOs and video community organizations. Apart from these visits, she was also exposed to events such the Kamisan demonstrations and learned about story development from more seasoned filmmakers in Jakarta.
She also conducted some interviews delving deeper into social and gender-related issues in Papua. Her interviews with prominent womens rights activist, Ita Natalia, and rural researcher Yando Zakaria are also available on the EngageMedia site.
Near the end of her residency, Martha completed a short documentary on Papuan issues and conducted a public screening of the film, which was attended by over 50 people. The post-screening discussion focused on the role of women in Papua and how the militarization of Papua affects the social and economic lives of ordinary people. You can view Martha's video, 'Bangkitlah dan Belajarlah!', with English subtitles below.
Martha Langowuy's residency was sponsored by the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club, through its Harry Burton Memorial Fund. Reuters cameraman Harry Burton was murdered by pro-Taliban militants in an ambush in Afghanistan in November 2001 while on secondment from his Jakarta base. The fund set up in his memory aims to support the training of journalists, with priority given to camera operators, from the remoter parts of Indonesia.