Internet geeks share a common style, and Ko Latt and his four friends would not be out of place in cyber cafés across the world. They have the skinny arms and the long hair, the dark T-shirts and the jokey nicknames. But few such figures have ever taken the risks that they have in the past few weeks, or achieved so much in a noble and dangerous cause.Unfortunately for the bloggers, they all had to register with the government to be allowed to blog in the first place. If the junta falls, they'll be heroes. If it survives, they'll probably be dead.
Since last month Ko Latt, 28, his friends Arca, Eye, Sun and Superman, and scores of others like them have been the third pillar of Burma’s Saffron Revolution. While the veteran democracy activists, and then the Buddhist monks, marched in their tens of thousands against the military regime, it is the country’s amateur bloggers and internet enthusiasts who have brought the images to the outside world.
Armed with small digital cameras, they have documented the spectacular growth of the demonstrations from crowds of a few hundred to as many as 100,000. On weblogs they have recorded in words and pictures the regime’s bloody crackdown, in a city where only a handful of foreign journalists work undercover. With downloaded software, they have dodged and weaved around the regime’s increasingly desperate attempts to thwart their work. Now the bloggers, too, have been crushed. Having failed to stop the cyber-dissidents broadcasting to the world, the authorities have simply switched off the internet.
— Bloggers who risked all to reveal the junta’s brutal crackdown in Burma, by Kenneth Denby, The Times, 1 October 2007
This is not the first time.
During the suppression of the Tienanmen Square demonstrations in China in 1989 eyewitnesses faxed out reports that were typed in by people in the U.S. and elsewhere and posted on USENET, immediately distributing them worldwide. While Yeltsin was shelling Parliament in Russia in 1993, locals sent electronic mail reports out by UUCP and FidoNet. The local governments in both cases had not quite yet realized the capability of computer networks to get around press bans. The generals in Myanmar no doubt know all about those previous incidents, and were ready. Plus they prepared in advance, by requiring all bloggers to register.
These bloggers were truly brave.
PS: Seen on Bruce Sterling's Beyond the Beyond.