Blogging for Political Change: Myanmar's Dissidents

To those keeping an eye on the political developments in Myanmar, London-based ex-pat Ko Htike's blog is one of the first places to turn for news, views and pictures from inside the closely secured nation.

Since taking over power in a military coup in 1962, Myanmar's ruling junta has kept a tight lid on information leaving the country.

But now, thanks in no small part to the growth of digital technology, news of the regime's brutal crackdown on recent protests is reaching people all over the world.

Htike's blog -- one of many maintained by Myanmar-born exiles -- publishes pictures, video and text sent to him from people inside Myanmar. He told the BBC that he established contact with these dissidents via an Internet forum that has since been disbanded.

After a flood of blog entries and online video footage showed the world what was happening on the streets of Myanmar, Htike reported that the junta closed down Internet access on Thursday.

When ABC News interviewed Tayza Thuria, the London-based general secretary of Myanmar's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, he confirmed the report, saying that "the whole Internet system has been shut down -- the troops have taken over the building that housed the main server."

Things were very different two decades ago, in August 1988, when the military cracked down on anti-government protesters, killing at least 3,000 people, according to estimates.

ABC News' Baghdad correspondent Terry McCarthy was there, and he remembered the difficulties of getting the story out to an international audience.

"There was only one telex machine in the Strand Hotel, where all the journalists were staying," McCarthy said.

There were of course no cell phones and no Internet. There were also, as McCarthy recalled, "no flights out of the country."

"After we flew into Myanmar -- on what was essentially a flight for diplomats -- there were no flights out of the country for a week. So there was no way to get film out of the country," he said.

"Part of the reason the Tiananmen Square massacre became so huge," he said, "was because there were TV cameras there to film it."

Footage of the 1989 protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square against China's communist government made headlines everywhere, but critics say it did not signify a move toward greater democracy in the country.

Now that the world is waking up to what is happening inside Myanmar, will international condemnation translate into regime change?

Observers say that is unlikely.

Vincent Brossel, director of the Asia-Pacific desk of Reporters Without Borders, told ABC News that citizen-journalists and cyberdissidents have "won the media battle."

"But," he added, "I am not sure if they have won the diplomatic battle and the street battle."

"You can have good journalists and good activists, but when the army is shooting people like rabbits you cannot do anything. People will be killed, and in the coming days, people will be arrested and tortured and the Internet can do nothing about it," he said emphatically.

Furthermore, as McCarthy pointed out, "the junta is impervious to international criticism, so the fact that its actions are publicized doesn't mean they are going to change."

But to those writing from inside Myanmar, blogs are not just a way to reach a global audience; they are also a way to connect with their fellow citizens and discover their own political conscience.

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