Extremist Buddhists Spearhead Anti-Muslim Sentiment in Burma
Burmese political blogger Nay Phone Latt was jailed for sharing news online about the monk-led saffron revolution in 2007 against the country’s brutal military dictatorship. Released under an amnesty for political prisoners three years ago, he is involved in another kind of revolution, one against hate speech targeting Muslims that is becoming more and more prevalent in Burmese society.
The internet in Burma was once among the most restricted in the world but, since the lifting of censorship, people can now access whatever they want. Internet availability is still scarce but, with telecommunications infrastructure developing at a fast pace, many use the internet via mobile phones. Social media, especially Facebook, has become a popular way to discuss politics and share views and opinions, something not possible before. However, not only has it led to greater political debate, it has also lead to an outpouring of hateful and racist sentiment towards Muslims who make up about 4 per cent of the population.
“Now everything is open, and most people are using Facebook and social media,” says Nay Phone Latt. “But not only is there free speech but there is also hate speech spreading through social media.”
From a modest building in a quiet leafyRangoon neighbourhood, he and his civil society group Myanmar ICT Development Organisation, in collaboration with other activist groups, operates a campaign to counteract hate speech online. Called Panzagar (flower speech), their slogan is “not to spread hatred among our society; be careful of your speech”.