04 October 2007

Repression in Burma: The Uses of Photography

This passage is from a story in The Guardian today:

"Troops with loudspeakers toured Rangoon's suburbs, threatening
and cajoling terrified residents and warning that they would arrest
anyone they suspected of taking part in the demonstrations that
swelled to 100,000 people before security forces crushed the
uprising with beatings, tear gas and bullets.

'You must stay inside,' the soldiers warned in their
pronouncements. 'Don't come out. We have
photographs of the people we're looking
for. We will arrest them.'"

I heard a similar report on npr this morning. I assume that the regime has monitored many of the outlets publishing photographs of events in the country over the past couple of weeks. So they may well have many photographs of those active in the opposition. Even if they don't their claim is unverifiable and likely to sow fear among the population.

P.S.: The point here is that there is a potential massive down side to the very positive uses of photography by the opposition diring the protests last week. There was a pretty typical story about the strategic contest between oppoisiotn and regime for control of the visual media in The New York Times today



Anonymous Dawei from Beijing said...

In light of this news, have you considered removing the monk photos you posted?

04 October, 2007 20:36  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

d - Actually, I thought about that very seriously. The first two photos I posted only show protesting monks from behind. The others are all from web sites that I am certain the regime would have monitored. Perhaps this is self-serving, but I suspect the junta pays more attnetion to the various web pages dealing directly and consistently with Burma than to my blog. What do you think? I am interested. Jim

04 October, 2007 20:54  
Anonymous Dawei from Beijing said...

If we presuppose that this what the junta is actually doing, i.e., hunting down the monks in the photos, it would depend, as you suggested, on what kind of sites their "internet police" is looking at. In China, the "internet police" almost exclusively scours blogs, which is why I raised the point. In the case of Myanmar, like you, I also suspect they're scouring places like Reuters, and the BBC, grabbing whatever clear photos they can find and then sending their weaselly informants out into the streets to locate those people (it shouldn't be too hard since all the monks live in the same few places). Therefore I don't think you have to worry about a monk being arrested on the basis of your blog. If this was something that took place in China, I would have definitely recommended that you remove them.

05 October, 2007 00:33  
Anonymous brendadada said...

So do you think Reuters et al should be removing photographs?

05 October, 2007 03:44  
Anonymous Dawei from Beijing said...

B, sadly, I'm sure the damage has already been done. At least we can hope that the images will inspire outrage amongst the citizens of the free world.

I commented on Jim's previous Burma posting that I was surprised at the junta's lack of compunction to blatantly shoot people in this age digital cameras, blogs, and citizen journalism. Now it seems that not only have they committed egregious human rights violations in spite of the digital age, but with the aid of it. This is the ultimate irony.

05 October, 2007 16:37  
Blogger brett said...

While it easy to be concerned with the safety of the demonstrators, we must first consider their endeavor. These people take to the streets, in full view of their oppressors. We can't honestly believe they would wish their individual images censored at the potential expense of their mission.

08 October, 2007 06:09  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

What has changed is the context Brett. During the euphoria of demonstraitons individuals might take photographs or allow photos to be taken of them that in a period of violent repression can be used to single specific protesters out for "special" treatment. I believe that it is crucial to keep in mind that repressive regimes (and other - e.g., paramilitary - groups) are more than willing to take advantage of images posted on the net by supporters of dissent.

09 October, 2007 07:46  

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