Earlier in May, we collaborated with SAFENET to host an event in Jakarta, Indonesia, for members of the public to discuss the topic of digital rights and the issues surrounding it, along with a screening of Citizen Four.
Those present agreed that state sponsored surveillance, where a government with unlimited resources is specifically spying on your activities, is the worst scenario someone can find themselves in. However, we weren't only looking at high profile cases, but also at privacy awareness at wider, subtler, and even cultural levels.
We discussed privacy as having quite a different meaning in the Asian cultural context, and the boundaries and parameters to specify what kinds of activities can or can't be considered as trespassing rights or privacy. For example, how many people in the region are often very welcoming, opening their doors and inviting strangers into their homes, or when meeting someone new on public transportation, asking many questions on matters that would be considered private to a person from the West. This may relate to how "open" they are on social media platforms such as Facebook.
That dialogue was followed by the screening of Citizen Four. The film featured Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) employee who became a whistleblower on the dubious activities of the organisation, such as its mass appropriation of public data for its own political agenda. The discussion held after the screening touched on some critical points such as exactly who is spying on us, the rights of the public, and also how best we can defend ourselves against invasions of privacy.
It was a very fruitful event, but everyon agreed that it wouldn't be our last meeting, as there are still many related issues that need to be explored and work that needs to be done to spread awareness on them. And one of the events we're looking forward in that regard is 1st Global Feminist Hackathon, which we'll be participating in on 23 May!
As part of EngageMedia's outreach work in Myanmar, our editorial team been working throughout 2015 to collate, translate and distribute critical videos from the country.
Our collection currently features 180 videos, and here we'd like to highlight some key content that gives insight into Myanmar's socio-political situation.
Students Boycott Education Law
The Children of Bhamo's Brickworks
In the conflict zone of Bhamo, Kachin children work alongside their parents in a riverside brickworks where families are struggling to make ends meet. Watch
Monk Rejects Preaching Ban
Despite a ban by his government-appointed seniors, an outspoken monk says he intends to keep on preaching if called upon by the people. Watch
A Song for Freedom
The song 'Freedom', which features a trio of local rappers, puts a beat to Myanmar’s recent reforms, and the hopes that youth have for the future. Watch
These are the highlights of our Myanmar content, but you view the rest of our growing collection here, and contribute subtitles in more languages too. Also look out for news from our Southeast Asia Video Camp, happening in Yangon this June!
Despite being formerly banned and operating in exile, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) have captured some of Myanmar’s most historical moments on camera. The media organisation got international attention after the award-winning film, 'Burma VJ', which shows the work of their secret video reporters during the Saffron Revolution.
DVB continues to present videos on Myanmar's political process, the different regimes, conflicts and aspirations of the people. We highlight some videos from their collection below.
Aid Exodus: Rohingya Children Face Malnutrition
Muslim Rohingyas living in shelters in Burma's violence-plagued western Arakan State state have said they are facing a severe lack of nutrition as a result of aid workers evacuating from the region following attacks on their homes and offices.
The United Nations describes the Rohingya as one of the world's most persecuted minority groups. The Myanmar government denies them citizenship, arguing they are relatively recent migrants from the Indian sub-continent.
In recent years, the flaring conflict has led to thousands of Rohingya fleeing the country on boats for refuge, with many being stranded at sea.
The Dark Heart of Burma's Drug Epidemic
Palaung communities in northern Shan State are suffering from the effects of an even greater upsurge in opium cultivation than in previous years.
Local paramilitary leaders, some now elected into Burma’s new parliament, are being allowed to cultivate and profit from drugs in return for helping the regime suppress ethnic resistance forces in Burma’s escalating civil war.
As a result, drug addiction has escalated in the Palaung area, tearing apart families and communities. Burma’s drug problems are set to worsen unless there is genuine political reform that addresses the political aspirations of Burma’s ethnic minority groups.
Iconic Lake on Brink of Disaster
Thousands of dead fish have washed up on the banks of the Taungthaman lake on two separate occasions over the past month, signaling a deeply unhealthy natural environment.
The travellers’ day trips to the world’s longest teakwood bridge do not underpin the livelihoods of the locals living on the lake’s shore. It is an environment that sustains the families of over two thousand fishing industry workers, and hundreds more in related businesses.
Tourism officials, historians and architects have led a concerted push to save the U Bein bridge from dilapidation. But with the surrounding ecosystem on the cusp of disaster, the people of Taungthaman Lake need an environmental saviour.
The latest screening of Crossroads, our video collection on migration was held in cooperation with the Coalition of Burmese Ethnic Minorities (COBEM) in a packed church hall of 50 migrants and refugees in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Three films were shared with the audience, two of which were produced by the Yangon Film School, and the other being 'In Search of Shelter', which was co-produced by Wonna, a COBEM member and participant in the Crossroads training sessions.
Rachel, a representative from the migrant rights NGO Tenaganita, began the post-screening discussion by introducing her organisation and the work that it does, reassuring the group that they are not alone in their struggles as Tenaganita is always ready to help them.
During the discussion, it was revealed that almost all (80-90%) of those present have had personal experiences being harassed by police or problems with permits and employers.
One member of the audience pointed out that even if they produce their UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) card or supporting letter, there have been incidences where the document was just torn up by the police/authorities that had approached them.
Rachel reminded them that they report and document all these cases to COBEM so that they can be taken up by Tenaganita to the proper authorities. She also acknowledged that the UNHCR office in Malaysia have since stopped processing UNHCR cards to refugees and that her organisation is closely following the matter for any new developments.
At the end of the event, we passed Crossroads DVD toolkits to COBEM and the community for further use and distribution. We remain very grateful to the organisation for their warm reception, and look forward to working with them again in near future.
As a host organization of RightsCon Southeast Asia, EngageMedia members did a tremendous amount of outreach with colleagues and networks, cowriting proposals for sessions, joining sessions as facilitators and participants, documenting events, and of course, running the show.
The program for the event included over 100 discussions and meetings around internet rights in public and private programming. As coordinator of the conference, I had the opportunity to support all of the sessions and also to organize one session together with members from EngageMedia and Foundation for Media Alternatives and colleagues of Research Action Design (RAD). This session was a collaboration, organized together with Nica Dumlao, the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) staff lead on RightsCon and the head of FMA’s Digital Rights work,
From the beginning of working together, Nica and I noticed the commonalities in our work. Both of our organizations are working to build digital rights discourse and security practices among social justice activists. Our organizations both use a participatory training and popular education methodology. Our workshops are opportunities for activists to share their experiences of surveillance, online organizing tactics and techniques, and to build capacity in defending and protecting ourselves. FMA and RAD also engage in policy discussions and technology design spaces, and actively build bridges between those technocratic spaces and movement spaces so that activists, often the target of surveillance and privacy are active participants in policy and technology designed to counter surveillance and data insecurity.
FMA operates primarily in the Philippines, and RAD in the US, but the way we approach our work is similar and conversations we are having with activists are similar and we were able to learn from each others methodologies. We wanted to meet more people who are working with grassroots organizers in the area of digital rights, so we organized a session for RightsCon, together with Lisa Garcia (FMA), Seeta Peña Gangadharan (OTI and Data & Society), and Emi Kane (Abundance Foundation).
We invited colleagues who similarly work directly with activists to share some of their experiences and then, together with the participants who joined our session, we worked together to discuss our greatest challenges and opportunities.
Sylvia Cadena, Community Grants and Awards Specialist with ISIF Asia, Seelan Palay of EngageMedia, Amalia Toledo of Fundacion Karisma, and Diana Nucera with Allied Media Projects and Detroit Digital Stewards, all spoke about their work and experiences working with grassroots activists. They each led discussions around their areas of experience, discussing challenges and opportunities of working in the region around grant and venture capital funding for tech projects; mediamaking and documentation with migrant workers; building grassroots campaigns around digital rights policies; supporting groups to document rights acuses and defend their rights without making them more vulnerable; and developing community agreements for community owned technology.
Please see these links to learn more about this work:
EngageMedia recently partnered with Sitas Desa and Paguyuban Petani Kelud Makmur (Farmers Union) of Blitar, Indonesia, to screen our Crossroads migrant video collection in the remote village of Kruwuk. The event itself coincided with a meeting of the union there, and over 200 people attended our screening.
For decades, the Blitar regency has seen the sending of its residents to work in other countries, and has one of the highest rates in Java for exporting labour. Most of these migrant workers come from the farming families who no longer have any land to sustain themselves.
Kruwuk village is surrounded by hundreds of kilometers of land used for plantations which have been managed by several parties, especially after the former Dutch colonialists left the area. Much of this land was taken from the original owners, the farmers, and made them extremely poor during the span of several hundreds years of colonization. This battle for land has continued since independence up until today.
We were thankful to have this opportunity to screen the Crossroads films with farmers from Blitar, films that were produced by individuals who could very well be their own children in Malaysia. It was amazing that some of the farmers immediately related their cause with that of the migrant workers.
The audience started a conversation about the much wider impact of their own struggle, finding strength in its relation and new meanings of solidarity.
It was an inspiring occasion for us too, as we seek to learn more from events such as this and hope for more films to be distributed as catalysts to strengthen the marginal segments of Indonesian society.
It's 8pm in Yangon, and the roads are still packed with people rushing home. In a comfy room in the Pazudaung Township area, at the office of Equality Myanmar, EngageMedia staff were preparing to screen the collection to a Burmese audience for the first time.
We promptly started our screening with the young audience who were mostly filmmakers and their friends, showing four selected titles from the collection.
As expected, we got tons of interesting questions from the audience, who mostly asked about the topics presented in the films. Mama Pinang captured the most interest because of the familiarity of the Areca nut eating culture in Myanmar.
We're delighted that we had a chance to share these videos in the country and that we received positive attention for Papuan Voices II there. We're also looking forward to screening the entire collection to a wider audience at the in June.
'Perangkap (Trap)', by Crossroads participant and migrant community activist Muhammad Mundir, tells the story of two women migrant workers do not have the necessary documentation to live and work in Malaysia. The women open up about how their illegal status is used by some errant members of the police force to demand sexual favours from them.
The film was shown during a segment on 'Non-Discrimination & Equality' to an audience of over 250 people. Filmmaker Mundir was present and spoke on the issue highlighted in the film, and how the cases of the women in it are just two out of hundreds that he and other migrant worker NGOs in Malaysia have come across.
In Myanmar’s media landscape, most would observe that the reports by independent media there are focused on human rights issues. And in that regard, Kamayut Media, the country’s first private online TV organisation, delivers up-to-date.
Founded in 2012, Kamayut covers everything from political, business, social and entertainment news but continues to address the question, "What is the meaning of Human Rights in Myanmar?". Below we feature their coverage of three recent critical events.
Demands to Release Letpadaw Protesters
On 27 March 2015, a group of 100 students rallied in downtown Yangon, demanding the release of students and their supporters who were detained earlier that month after protesting a new education bill they say stifles academic freedom.
Journalists Boycott Yangon International Press Congress
Several Burmese media organisations boycotted the 65th World Congress of the International Press Institute, which was held in Yangon for the first time from 27 to 29 March 2015.
U Soe Myint, the organiser of the congress and Chief Editor of Mizzima said of the incident, “It is their right to hold a boycott, but this is not a government organised congress. Among the panelists there are government officers and National League for Democracy members. There will also be discussions between the authorities and the media.”
He added that the Congress will discuss topics of importance to the media such as press freedom and the role of media in elections.
However, as journalists have continually been beaten and unfairly imprisoned by the authorities, and because of the attendance of the Information Minister, the Myanmar Journalist’s Network urged local journalists to boycott the event.
Monk Rejects Preaching Ban
Shwe Nya War Sayadaw, an outspoken monk who has challenged the Buddhist establishment has stated that he intends to keep on preaching if called upon by the people, in defiance of a ban imposed by his government-appointed seniors.
The popular 50-year-old monk called a press conference in Hmawbi township to declare that he would defend his right under the constitution to speak freely without causing any damage to religion.
More videos from Kamayut Media are available on their video page. And if you're interested to learn more about contemporary Myanmar, its filmmakers, and journalists, look out for updates on our Southeast Asia Video Camp happening in Yangon in June 2015.
Over a weekend, our partners KOMAS held two screenings of ‘Here to Help’, one of the advocacy videos from our Crossroads collection on migrant rights in Malaysia. The film tells the story of a young Nepali man who gets his hand cut at the factory he works at, and how he struggles while seeking compensation.
The screening on the 5th of April was held in conjunction with the Nepalese Poeple's Progressive Forum which was attended by over 200 Nepali workers. It was also attended by the Nepali ambassador to Malaysia as well as the former Deputy Minister of Nepal.
The film was shown in between several speakers, who referred to its content during their presentations.
After the event on Saturday, we were contacted to have another screening the following day at an impromptu gathering at a Nepali restaurant in Kuala Lumpur.
Fajar from Tenaganita, an NGO working for the rights of migrants in Malaysia, conducted a discussion on the effective handling of medical cases with the audience of about 20 workers, before they continued with a screening of another film produced in Nepal.