Dr. Aye Maung said,"Our stand is that we won’t give even an inch of our land to those illegal Bangali Terrorist Immigrants. We won’t give up our land, our breeze, our water which are handed to us by our ancestors."

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Web users vent rage over Rakhine unrest

Myanmar Times

By Kelly Macnamara
Volume 32, No. 631
June 18 - 24, 2012

BANGKOK – Bitter enmity at the heart of communal unrest in Rakhine State has spilled online, with incendiary posts on social media sites reflecting deep-rooted hostilities in the region, experts said.

Several days of deadly violence have seen the government declare a state of emergency in Rakhine State, and talk of the clashes has lit up social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook.

A wide spectrum of opinion has been aired by web users embracing new freedoms on the internet, which was tightly controlled under years of authoritarian military rule that ended last year.

But experts say the level of vitriol stirred up by the rioting has reached worrying levels.

“Recent events in western Burma have created a hurricane of hate in the online sphere,” Nicholas Farrelly, a research fellow at the Australian National University, said.

“Tragically, contested accounts of the clashes provide fuel for hardliners on both sides.”

Much malice has been targeted at the Rohingya, considered by the UN to be one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, who number around 800,000 in Rakhine and are part of a larger Muslim community there.

They have long been viewed as “foreign” by the Myanmar government and many Burmese. They have a mutually suspicious relationship with many ethnic Rakhine, who are mostly Buddhist and view the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

Violent rhetoric and rumour have proliferated online, particularly on web comment boards.

Similar language has been used by those supporting the Rohingya, with one widely distributed email seen by AFP accusing “Buddhist fanatics” of atrocities.

“On both sides of the conflict there are those who could benefit from precipitating clashes,” said Dr Farrelly.

He said some Buddhist hardliners could be seeking to “purge” the Rohingya from Myanmar, with some on the Rohingya side possibly keen to draw greater attention to their situation in Myanmar.

It is unclear how much of the vitriol has emanated from the unrest-hit area, where internet access is limited.

“The very low levels of Internet penetration in Myanmar make it unlikely that this online racist rhetoric has been driving the spread of the violence,” said a report by the International Crisis Group on June 12.

“But the disturbing views posted widely online are reflective of the view of people on the ground,” it said, urging the government not to resort to internet censorship, but to allow open reporting from local media to provide balance.

According to Jan Zalewski, an analyst with the IHS Global Insight research group, the boundaries between anti-Rohingya sentiment and anti-Muslim sentiment are “increasingly blurring”.

“The risk of propaganda translating into violent action is increased,” he wrote, because after years of restrictions on the internet and media, “there is too little awareness now about the dangers” of a free-for-all of information.

The United Nations has evacuated most international staff from northern Rakhine State, where the Rohingya are concentrated. AFP reporters have been unable to visit many of the affected areas for security reasons.

“The Burmese public are believing one side of the story, which is that Rohingya are not Burmese, are not citizens and are just Bengali settlers trying to take their land,” said Phil Robertson, of New York-based Human Rights Watch. – AFP

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