On Feb. 4, 2019, a Facebook researcher created a new user account to see what it was like to experience the social media site as a person living in Kerala, India.
For the next three weeks, the account operated by a simple rule: Follow all the recommendations generated by Facebook’s algorithms to join groups, watch videos and explore new pages on the site.
The result was an inundation of hate speech, misinformation and celebrations of violence, which were documented in an internal Facebook report published later that month.
bots and fake accounts tied to the country’s ruling party and opposition figures were wreaking havoc on national elections. They also detail how a plan championed by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to focus on “meaningful social interactions,” or exchanges between friends and family, was leading to more misinformation in India, particularly during the pandemic.
a violent coup in the country. Facebook said that after the coup, it implemented a special policy to remove praise and support of violence in the country, and later banned the Myanmar military from Facebook and Instagram.
In Sri Lanka, people were able to automatically add hundreds of thousands of users to Facebook groups, exposing them to violence-inducing and hateful content. In Ethiopia, a nationalist youth militia group successfully coordinated calls for violence on Facebook and posted other inflammatory content.
Facebook has invested significantly in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali, two of the most widely used languages, Mr. Stone said. He added that Facebook reduced the amount of hate speech that people see globally by half this year.
suicide bombing in the disputed border region of Kashmir set off a round of violence and a spike in accusations, misinformation and conspiracies between Indian and Pakistani nationals.
After the attack, anti-Pakistan content began to circulate in the Facebook-recommended groups that the researcher had joined. Many of the groups, she noted, had tens of thousands of users. A different report by Facebook, published in December 2019, found Indian Facebook users tended to join large groups, with the country’s median group size at 140,000 members.
Graphic posts, including a meme showing the beheading of a Pakistani national and dead bodies wrapped in white sheets on the ground, circulated in the groups she joined.
After the researcher shared her case study with co-workers, her colleagues commented on the posted report that they were concerned about misinformation about the upcoming elections in India.
Two months later, after India’s national elections had begun, Facebook put in place a series of steps to stem the flow of misinformation and hate speech in the country, according to an internal document called Indian Election Case Study.
The case study painted an optimistic picture of Facebook’s efforts, including adding more fact-checking partners — the third-party network of outlets with which Facebook works to outsource fact-checking — and increasing the amount of misinformation it removed. It also noted how Facebook had created a “political white list to limit P.R. risk,” essentially a list of politicians who received a special exemption from fact-checking.
The study did not note the immense problem the company faced with bots in India, nor issues like voter suppression. During the election, Facebook saw a spike in bots — or fake accounts — linked to various political groups, as well as efforts to spread misinformation that could have affected people’s understanding of the voting process.
In a separate report produced after the elections, Facebook found that over 40 percent of top views, or impressions, in the Indian state of West Bengal were “fake/inauthentic.” One inauthentic account had amassed more than 30 million impressions.
A report published in March 2021 showed that many of the problems cited during the 2019 elections persisted.
In the internal document, called Adversarial Harmful Networks: India Case Study, Facebook researchers wrote that there were groups and pages “replete with inflammatory and misleading anti-Muslim content” on Facebook.
The report said there were a number of dehumanizing posts comparing Muslims to “pigs” and “dogs,” and misinformation claiming that the Quran, the holy book of Islam, calls for men to rape their female family members.
Much of the material circulated around Facebook groups promoting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an Indian right-wing and nationalist group with close ties to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P. The groups took issue with an expanding Muslim minority population in West Bengal and near the Pakistani border, and published posts on Facebook calling for the ouster of Muslim populations from India and promoting a Muslim population control law.
Facebook knew that such harmful posts proliferated on its platform, the report indicated, and it needed to improve its “classifiers,” which are automated systems that can detect and remove posts containing violent and inciting language. Facebook also hesitated to designate R.S.S. as a dangerous organization because of “political sensitivities” that could affect the social network’s operation in the country.
Of India’s 22 officially recognized languages, Facebook said it has trained its A.I. systems on five. (It said it had human reviewers for some others.) But in Hindi and Bengali, it still did not have enough data to adequately police the content, and much of the content targeting Muslims “is never flagged or actioned,” the Facebook report said.
Five months ago, Facebook was still struggling to efficiently remove hate speech against Muslims. Another company report detailed efforts by Bajrang Dal, an extremist group linked with the B.J.P., to publish posts containing anti-Muslim narratives on the platform.
Facebook is considering designating the group as a dangerous organization because it is “inciting religious violence” on the platform, the document showed. But it has not yet done so.
“Join the group and help to run the group; increase the number of members of the group, friends,” said one post seeking recruits on Facebook to spread Bajrang Dal’s messages. “Fight for truth and justice until the unjust are destroyed.”
Ryan Mac, Cecilia Kang and Mike Isaac contributed reporting.
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Its name translates into “floating island,” and for up to 100,000 desperate war refugees, the low-slung landmass is supposed to be home.
One refugee, Munazar Islam, initially thought it would be his. He and his family of four fled Myanmar in 2017 after the military there unleashed a campaign of murder and rape that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing. After years in a refugee camp prone to fires and floods, he accepted an invitation from the government of neighboring Bangladesh to move to the island, Bhasan Char.
Mr. Islam’s relief was short lived. Jobs on the island were nonexistent. Police officers controlled the refugees’ movements and sometimes barred residents from mingling with neighbors, or children from playing together outside. The island was vulnerable to flooding and cyclones and, until relatively recently, would occasionally disappear underwater.
So, in August, Mr. Islam paid human smugglers about $400 to ferry his family somewhere else.
“When I got the chance, I paid and left,” said Mr. Islam, who asked that his location not be revealed because leaving Bhasan Char is illegal. “I died every day on that island, and I didn’t want to be stuck there.”
worsened storms and sent sea levels rising. Human Rights Watch, in a recent report, said refugees and humanitarian workers alike fear that inadequate storm and flood protection could put those on the island at serious risk.
Nevertheless, the Bangladesh government has moved ahead with resettling Rohingya refugees there. They have built housing for more than 100,000 people, with a series of red-roofed dormitories checkering more than two square miles of the western side of the island.
The number of people trying to escape the island has become a growing problem. About 700 have tried to flee, according to the police, sometimes paying $150 per person to find rides on rickety boats. The police have arrested at least 200 people who attempted to leave.
The police cite safety concerns. In August, a boat carrying 42 people capsized, leaving 14 people dead and 13 missing.
“When we catch them, we send them back to the island,” said Abul Kalam Azad, a police officer in the port city of Chattogram on the southeastern coast of Bangladesh. “They say they are mostly upset for not having any job in Bhasan Char. They are eager to work and earn money.”
Some simply want to see their families again.
Last year, Jannat Ara left her hut in Cox’s Bazar for a dangerous sea journey to take a job in Malaysia that would provide food for eight members of her family. Her boat was intercepted by the Bangladesh navy. She was sent to Bhasan Char, where she lived with three other women.
Alone and desperate to leave, in May she seized the first chance she could get to escape. Her parents paid around $600 for the journey back to Cox’s Bazar, she said. She traveled for hours in pitch dark before arriving back at the camp.
“Only Allah knows how I lived there for a year,” Ms. Ara said. “It is a jail with red roof buildings and surrounded by the sea from all sides. I used to call my parents and cry every day.”
Human rights groups have questioned whether the refugees at Bhasan Char have enough access to food, water, schooling and health care. In an emergency, they say, the island also lacks an ability to evacuate residents.
“The fear is always there,” said Dil Mohammad, a Rohingya refugee who arrived on the island in December. “We are surrounded by the sea.”
But the biggest worry, Mr. Mohammad said, is the education of his children.
“My elder son used to go to the community school when we were in Cox’s Bazar,” he said, “but he is about to forget everything he learned, as there is no option for him to study in Bhasan Char.”
The fear of being stuck on the vulnerable island without any means of getting out has led to protests against Bangladeshi authorities by the refugees. The protests began in May, when U.N. human rights investigators paid a visit. They continued in August after the boat incident, with protesters carrying signs criticizing the Bangladesh government and appealing to the U.N. to get sent back to Cox’s Bazar.
Mr. Islam, the Rohingya refugee who fled in August, was one of the protesters. But he was already thinking about getting out.
He lost three cousins during a killing spree carried out by the Myanmar military in Rakhine state in 2017. Once they arrived in Cox’s Bazar, he and his family built a hillside hut out of sticks and plastic tarpaulins and shared it with another family of three.
During hot summer nights, Mr. Islam said, he and the other man slept outside so that their children and wives could sleep comfortably inside.
The promise of an apartment on Bhasan Char held appeal. In January, while other families were forced to go there, he volunteered. They carried a few blankets and two bags of clothes.
He came to regret the decision. When he arrived back at Cox’s Bazar in August, he saw it with new eyes.
“I felt,” he said, “as if I was walking into my home.”
TORKHAM, Pakistan — The Taliban, thankfully, didn’t figure out Mohammad was a police officer.
Mohammad, 55, had worked for years in Laghman Province east of Kabul, where chasing militants was part of the job. Then the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan. They killed his boss. Mohammad figured he and his family were next.
“We left Afghanistan mainly to protect our lives,” said Mohammad, who insisted on being identified only by his first name to protect his extended family from reprisals. On Aug. 16, he, his wife and their five children reached Spin Boldak, a town on the Afghanistan side of the border, before crossing to Chaman on the Pakistan side. To get there, they navigated watchful Taliban and paid Pakistan security forces $900 in bribes.
“On the highway, Taliban fighters were stopping and searching travelers,” said Mohammad. “But, luckily, they did not recognize me because, maybe, I was a low-ranked cop.”
The Pakistan authorities are watching worriedly to see whether more refugees like Mohammad and his family come pouring over the border. The government is expecting as many as 700,000 at a potential cost of $2.2 billion as the authorities set up camps and ways to track and feed them.
the United Nations, though experts say hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants live there, too.
The migration issue has at times added tension along the border. Already, on Wednesday Pakistan’s military fired artillery rounds over the border, citing firing from Afghanistan that killed five soldiers — the latest in long-running hostilities as Pakistan forces target suspected insurgents hiding on the other side.
Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, Pakistan’s powerful intelligence chief, listed terrorism and refugees among Pakistan’s top concerns at a meeting with Taliban leaders in Kabul over the weekend, according to Fawad Chaudhry, the Pakistani information minister.
1,600-mile border fence in recent years.
At Torkham, the dusty border crossing about 140 miles east of Kabul, the Pakistani authorities appeared to be keeping the flow of refugees under strict control. Only small groups of people crossed the border, where only Pakistan citizens and Afghans with visas are allowed to cross. Hundreds of empty container trucks sat idle on the Pakistan side, evidence of a sharp drop in trade because of the war.
raided by law enforcement, with young men rounded up, detained or beaten en masse, rights groups say.
their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be. One spokesman told The Times that the group wanted to forget its past, but that there would be some restrictions.
“Harassment and exploitation on the part of law enforcement agencies is a product of underlying perceptions of Afghans as violent, dangerous and suspicious,” said Zoha Waseem, a sociology professor at the University of Warwick and an expert on policing. “Refugees are therefore viewed with suspicion and seen as an alleged threat to the security of the nation-state. This makes an entire community, including refugee children, at risk of state harassment.”
Human Rights Watch. The group warned that the move risked adding to a population of hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan rendered essentially homeless by poverty and conflict.
The Taliban’s vengeful ways add to the risks. While the country’s new leaders have tried to strike a moderate tone, reports of reprisals against former members of the security forces and other Taliban opponents have trickled out of the country.
“I have no plans to go back to the Taliban’s Afghanistan,” said Khan, once a journalist in Kabul. He wanted to be identified only by his surname to protect his wife and two children, who remain in the Afghan capital.
Anticipating a Taliban victory by October, Khan had planned to get passports for his wife and two children to move to Pakistan. Kabul’s sudden fall last month spoiled those plans.
“Taliban has a list of journalists who were critical of the movement in their reporting,” said Mr. Khan, who had a visa to enter Pakistan, “and I am sure I am among them.”
In Camp Jadeed, a makeshift home for Afghan refugees on Karachi’s outskirts, residents said they had no plans to go back despite the temporary nature of their surroundings.
“With Taliban’s recapturing, a new era of uncertainty and fear starts in Afghanistan,” said Jan Ali, an Afghan in his 60s who arrived in Pakistan in 1980 and makes a living selling secondhand carpets.
He has seen arrivals from decades of conflict. “But the only good thing, this time,” he said, “is that bloodshed was avoided to gain Kabul’s throne.”
Salman Masood contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.
Facebook has approached academics and policy experts about forming a commission to advise it on global election-related matters, said five people with knowledge of the discussions, a move that would allow the social network to shift some of its political decision-making to an advisory body.
The proposed commission could decide on matters such as the viability of political ads and what to do about election-related misinformation, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential. Facebook is expected to announce the commission this fall in preparation for the 2022 midterm elections, they said, though the effort is preliminary and could still fall apart.
Outsourcing election matters to a panel of experts could help Facebook sidestep criticism of bias by political groups, two of the people said. The company has been blasted in recent years by conservatives, who have accused Facebook of suppressing their voices, as well as by civil rights groups and Democrats for allowing political misinformation to fester and spread online. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, does not want to be seen as the sole decision maker on political content, two of the people said.
Oversight Board, a collection of journalism, legal and policy experts who adjudicate whether the company was correct to remove certain posts from its platforms. Facebook has pushed some content decisions to the Oversight Board for review, allowing it to show that it does not make determinations on its own.
pays them through a trust.
The Oversight Board’s highest-profile decision was reviewing Facebook’s suspension of former President Donald J. Trump after the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. At the time, Facebook opted to ban Mr. Trump’s account indefinitely, a penalty that the Oversight Board later deemed “not appropriate” because the time frame was not based on any of the company’s rules. The board asked Facebook to try again.
In June, Facebook responded by saying that it would bar Mr. Trump from the platform for at least two years. The Oversight Board has separately weighed in on more than a dozen other content cases that it calls “highly emblematic” of broader themes that Facebook grapples with regularly, including whether certain Covid-related posts should remain up on the network and hate speech issues in Myanmar.
A spokesman for the Oversight Board declined to comment.
Facebook has had a spotty track record on election-related issues, going back to Russian manipulation of the platform’s advertising and posts in the 2016 presidential election.
bar the purchase of new political ads the week before the election, then later decided to temporarily ban all U.S. political advertising after the polls closed on Election Day, causing an uproar among candidates and ad-buying firms.
The company has struggled with how to handle lies and hate speech around elections. During his last year in office, Mr. Trump used Facebook to suggest he would use state violence against protesters in Minneapolis ahead of the 2020 election, while casting doubt on the electoral process as votes were tallied in November. Facebook initially said that what political leaders posted was newsworthy and should not be touched, before later reversing course.
The social network has also faced difficulties in elections elsewhere, including the proliferation of targeted disinformation across its WhatsApp messaging service during the Brazilian presidential election in 2018. In 2019, Facebook removed hundreds of misleading pages and accounts associated with political parties in India ahead of the country’s national elections.
Facebook has tried various methods to stem the criticisms. It established a political ads library to increase transparency around buyers of those promotions. It also has set up war rooms to monitor elections for disinformation to prevent interference.
There are several elections in the coming year in countries such as Hungary, Germany, Brazil and the Philippines where Facebook’s actions will be closely scrutinized. Voter fraud misinformation has already begun spreading ahead of German elections in September. In the Philippines, Facebook has removed networks of fake accounts that support President Rodrigo Duterte, who used the social network to gain power in 2016.
“There is already this perception that Facebook, an American social media company, is going in and tilting elections of other countries through its platform,” said Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Stanford University. “Whatever decisions Facebook makes have global implications.”
Internal conversations around an election commission date back to at least a few months ago, said three people with knowledge of the matter.
An election commission would differ from the Oversight Board in one key way, the people said. While the Oversight Board waits for Facebook to remove a post or an account and then reviews that action, the election commission would proactively provide guidance without the company having made an earlier call, they said.
Tatenda Musapatike, who previously worked on elections at Facebook and now runs a nonprofit voter registration organization, said that many have lost faith in the company’s abilities to work with political campaigns. But the election commission proposal was “a good step,” she said, because “they’re doing something and they’re not saying we alone can handle it.”
LONDON — Russia is increasingly pressuring Google, Twitter and Facebook to fall in line with Kremlin internet crackdown orders or risk restrictions inside the country, as more governments around the world challenge the companies’ principles on online freedom.
Russia’s internet regulator, Roskomnadzor, recently ramped up its demands for the Silicon Valley companies to remove online content that it deems illegal or restore pro-Kremlin material that had been blocked. The warnings have come at least weekly since services from Facebook, Twitter and Google were used as tools for anti-Kremlin protests in January. If the companies do not comply, the regulator has said, they face fines or access to their products may be throttled.
The latest clashes flared up this week, when Roskomnadzor told Google on Monday to block thousands of unspecified pieces of illegal content or it would slow access to the company’s services. On Tuesday, a Russian court fined Google 6 million rubles, or about $81,000, for not taking down another piece of content.
store all data on Russian users within the country by July 1 or face fines. In March, the authorities had made it harder for people to see and send posts on Twitter after the company did not take down content that the government considered illegal. Twitter has since removed roughly 6,000 posts to comply with the orders, according to Roskomnadzor. The regulator has threatened similar penalties against Facebook.
the police visited Twitter’s offices in New Delhi in a show of force. No employees were present, but India’s governing party has become increasingly upset with the perception that Twitter has sided with its critics during the coronavirus pandemic.
In Myanmar, Poland, Turkey and elsewhere, leaders are also tightening internet controls. In Belarus, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko this week signed a law banning livestreams from unauthorized protests.
“All of these policies will have the effect of creating a fractured internet, where people have different access to different content,” said Jillian York, an internet censorship expert with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in Berlin.
The struggle over online speech in Russia has important ramifications because the internet companies have been seen as shields from government censors. The latest actions are a major shift in the country, where the internet, unlike television, had largely remained open despite President Vladimir V. Putin’s tight grip on society.
“sovereign internet,” a legal and technical system to block access to certain websites and fence off parts of the Russian internet from the rest of the world.
an interview this week with Kommersant, a leading Russian newspaper, Andrey Lipov, the head of Roskomnadzor, said slowing down access to internet services was a way to force the companies to comply with Russian laws and takedown orders. Mr. Lipov said blocking their services altogether was not the goal.
Google declined to discuss the situation in Russia and said it received government requests from the around the world, which it discloses in its transparency reports.
Facebook also would not discuss Russia, but said it restricted content that violated local laws or its terms of service. “We always strive to preserve voice for the greatest number of people,” a spokeswoman said.
Twitter said in a statement that it took down content flagged by the Russian authorities that violated its policies or local laws.
protests in support of the opposition leader Alexei A. Navalny after his arrest in January. The demonstrations were the biggest shows of dissent against Mr. Putin in years.
“This mobilization was happening online,” Ms. Zlobina said.
The Russian government has portrayed the tech industry as part of a foreign campaign to meddle in domestic affairs. The authorities have accused the companies of blocking pro-Kremlin online accounts while boosting the opposition, and said the platforms were also havens for child pornography and drug sales.
Twitter became the first major test of Russia’s censorship technology in March when access to its service was slowed down, according to researchers at the University of Michigan.
To resolve the conflict, a Twitter executive met at least twice with Russian officials, according to the company and Roskomnadzor. The government, which had threatened to ban Twitter entirely, said the company had eventually complied with 91 percent of its takedown requests.
Other internet companies have also been affected. Last month, TikTok, the popular social media platform owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, was fined 2.6 million rubles, or about $35,000, for not removing posts seen as encouraging minors to participate in illegal demonstrations. TikTok did not respond to a request for comment.
The fines are small, but larger penalties loom. The Russian government can increase fines to as much as 10 percent of a company’s revenue for repeat offenses, and, perhaps more important, authorities can disrupt their services.
Perhaps the biggest target has been Google. YouTube has been a key outlet for government critics such as Mr. Navalny to share information and organize. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Google has employees in Russia. (The company would not say how many.)
In addition to this week’s warning, Russia has demanded that Google lift restrictions that limit the availability of some content from state media outlets like Sputnik and Russia Today outside Russia.
Russia’s antitrust regulator is also investigating Google over YouTube’s policies for blocking videos.
Google is trying to use the courts to fight some actions by the Russian government. Last month, it sued Roskomnadzor to fight an order to remove 12 YouTube videos related to opposition protests. In another case, the company appealed a ruling ordering YouTube to reinstate videos from Tsargrad, a nationalist online TV channel, which Google had taken down over what it said were violations of American sanctions.
Joanna Szymanska, a senior program officer for Article 19, an internet freedom group, said Google’s recent lawsuit to fight the YouTube takedown orders would influence what other countries did in the future, even if the company was likely to lose in court. Ms. Szymanska, who is based in Poland, called on the tech companies to be more transparent about what content they were being asked to delete, and what orders they were complying with.
“The Russian example will be used elsewhere if it works well,” she said.
Adam Satariano reported from London and Oleg Matsnev from Moscow. Anton Troianovski contributed reporting from Moscow.
On March 4, his sister received a police summons to the Monywa mortuary. She identified her brother’s body, Ms. Khin Sandar Win said. A bullet hole punctured his left temple. A long slash ran down his torso.
The family wondered whether the gash signaled that his internal organs had been removed, a desecration increasingly found among those killed by the military in Myanmar. But Mr. Chan Thar Swe was cremated before his relatives could find out more.
His mother now spends her days looking at photographs of him, her oldest child, on Facebook. Along with his ashes, it is all she has of him.
“My brother did not support us financially because he was a poet, but he protected us whenever we needed,” Ms. Khin Sandar Win said.
At Mr. Chan Thar Swe’s funeral, another poet, Ko Khet Thi, recited a poem he had written for those killed by the security forces, many with a single bullet to the head and some when they were not even protesting.
They began to burn the poets
When the smoke of burned books could
No longer choke the lungs heavy with dissent.
Weeks after the funeral, Mr. Khet Thi, a onetime engineer, was hauled into detention and later turned up dead, according to his family. His corpse also had an unexplained incision down his torso, the family said.
“I am also afraid that I will get arrested and killed, but I will keep fighting,” said Ko Kyi Zaw Aye, yet another poet from Monywa who was close to both men.
For the first time since Myanmar’s military locked her up in a pre-dawn raid as part of its coup on Feb. 1, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar’s ousted civilian government, was seen in person on Monday when she sat briefly at a court hearing.
The short appearance at a special court in Naypyidaw, the Southeast Asian country’s capital, was also the first time that most of her legal team had caught a glimpse of their famous client. They have been defending her against a raft of criminal charges that the United Nations and foreign governments say are clearly politically motivated. Most of the country’s elected leadership has been jailed.
In a 30-minute meeting with her lawyers before the hearing, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who had previously appeared by video link, seemed healthy and resolute, if unclear about just how Myanmar had changed since the coup, a member of her legal team said. Since the putsch, the military has imposed a reign of terror, isolating the country once more from the international community.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was determined to defend the integrity of her political party, the National League for Democracy, or N.L.D., her lawyers said.
importing walkie-talkies, breaching coronavirus regulations and contravening the Official Secrets Act, among other crimes. Military-linked forces have also accused her of accepting bags of cash and 25 pounds of gold, although she has not been formally charged on those counts.
If she is found guilty of the charges — and Myanmar’s courts have a record of delivering guilty verdicts in political cases — Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, could be imprisoned for the rest of her life.
Although Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was initially held at her villa in Naypyidaw, she was moved to an undisclosed location a week later, blindfolded while in transit, her lawyer said.
“She doesn’t know where she is living now,” Ms. Min Min Soe said. “She doesn’t know anything about what is happening outside.”
internet blackouts imposed by the junta. With Covid-19 restrictions in place, some of the hearings were supposed to occur by video link.
Her next scheduled court date is June 7.
trounced the military’s proxy political party in nationwide elections. The lopsided result seemed to blindside some members of the military, even though the league had done the same five years before when it began sharing power with the army.
When the military, known as the Tatmadaw, staged its coup in February, it promised to hold elections within a year. The timetable was then extended to two years. Now, the country is facing the prospect of an election at an indeterminate point in the future without the party that won the most votes from citizens.
The military says that the elections last year were fraudulent, a charge dismissed by international observers and by a national election commission that was disbanded after the coup.
“The N.L.D. cannot be dissolved by force and orders because it is already the party in the hearts of the people,” said U Aung Kyi Nyunt, a spokesman for the party. “Abolition through illegal power will not succeed. The N.L.D. will survive and remain strong in Myanmar’s political history.”
ethnic armed groups claimed that they had killed dozens of Tatmadaw soldiers in offensives, even as the army’s shelling claimed lives of civilians sheltering in a church in eastern Myanmar. In the big cities, including Yangon and Mandalay, protesters organized flash mobs of dissent, scattering quickly as security forces drew near.
More than 800 people have been killed by security forces since the coup, according to a monitoring group, many shot in the head while peacefully protesting. More than 4,200 have been detained.
Among them is U Thein Hlaing Tun, a lawyer representing another of Myanmar’s jailed elected leaders. He was arrested on Monday as he tried to meet with his client at the same special court in Naypyidaw where Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi appeared.
Mr. Thein Hlaing Tun was charged with violating a section of the penal code criminalizing perceived slights against the Tatmadaw.
“That’s all we know about his arrest,” Ms. Min Min Soe said.
As a girl, Ma Thuzar Wint Lwin would watch the Miss Universe pageant and wish that she could be the one onstage representing her country, Myanmar. She entered her first two contests last year, nervous and excited about what to expect. But she ultimately walked away crowned Miss Universe Myanmar, and this week is competing at the global pageant in Florida.
But now representing her country has new meaning. With the military seizing power in a Feb. 1 coup and killing hundreds of protesters, she hopes to use her platform to call attention to Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement and to appeal for international help in freeing elected leaders who have been detained.
“They are killing our people like animals,” she said in an interview before leaving Myanmar for the competition. “Where is the humanity? Please help us. We are helpless here.”
In a dramatic moment on Thursday during the pageant’s national costume show, she walked to the front of the stage and held up a sign saying, “Pray for Myanmar.” The final competition will be held on Sunday.
responded with a brutal crackdown, killing more than 780 people and detaining more than 3,900, according to a rights group that tracks political prisoners.
In the early weeks of the protest movement, Ms. Thuzar Wint Lwin, 22, joined the demonstrations, where she held signs with slogans such as “We do not want military government,” and called for the release of the country’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since the coup.
black-and-white photos of herself blindfolded, with tape over her mouth and her hands bound.
The military’s onslaught has left the country living in fear, she said.
“The soldiers patrol the city every day and sometimes they set up roadblocks to harass the people coming through,” said Ms. Thuzar Wint Lwin, who also goes by the name Candy. “In some cases, they fire without hesitation. We are scared of our own soldiers. Whenever we see one, all we feel is anger and fear.”
giving up his dream of going to the Olympics and would not compete under the Myanmar flag until the regime’s leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, was removed from power. And the mixed martial arts fighter U Aung La Nsang, an American citizen and one of Myanmar’s most famous athletes, has urged President Biden to help end the suffering of Myanmar’s people.
Ms. Thuzar Wint Lwin says she believes that it will not be safe for her to return to Myanmar after speaking out against the regime; she does not know where she will go after the pageant ends.
An English major at East Yangon University, her path to the pro-democracy movement can perhaps be traced back to her childhood. She grew up in a middle-class household. Like many parents, her father, a businessman, and her mother, a housewife, dared not discuss the military government that was then in power.
One of her early memories was walking with her mother near Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon in 2007, when monks led nationwide protests against military rule. She was 7. As they neared the pagoda, soldiers broke up the protest by shooting their guns in the air. People started running. She and her mother ran, too.
began sharing power with civilian leaders and opening the country, allowing cellphones and affordable internet access to flood in.
Ms. Thuzar Wint Lwin is part of the first generation in Myanmar to grow up fully connected to the outside world, and for whom a free society seemed normal. In 2015, the country seated democratically elected officials for the first time in more than half a century. “We have been living in freedom for five years,” she said. “Do not take us back. We know all about the world. We have the internet.”
November was the first time she was old enough to vote, and she cast her ballot for the National League for Democracy, the party of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, which won in a landslide only to have the military overturn the results by seizing power.
Before the coup, Ms. Thuzar Wint Lwin’s biggest ordeal came when she was 19 and had surgery to remove precancerous tumors from each breast, leaving permanent scars. She decided against having laser treatment to improve their appearance as a reminder of her success in preventing cancer.
“It’s just a scar and I’m still me,” she wrote in a recent post with photographs of the scars. “I met self-acceptance realizing nothing changed who I am and the values I set for myself. Now, when I see those scars, I feel empowered.”
autobiographical video on Facebook that would be unusual for any beauty pageant contestant: It shows her wearing formal gowns mixed with scenes of people fleeing tear gas and a soldier shooting a man who rode by on a motorbike.
“Myanmar deserves democracy,” she says in the video. “We will keep fighting and I also hope that international communities will give us help that we desperately need.”
As a resurgent coronavirus threatens countries across Southeast Asia, the health authorities in Thailand are working to contain an outbreak that is ripping through the tight-knit community of gemstone traders in the southeastern reaches of the country near the border with Cambodia.
The town of Chanthaburi — which has a long history as a center of the country’s business in rubies, sapphires and other stones — is at the heart of the outbreak, which has infected at least 166 in the community of traders from Africa who work in the country. At least 103 Thais in the town have also tested positive as a result of the latest outbreak, officials reported.
The cluster of cases comes as Thailand battles its worst outbreak since the pandemic began. For nearly three weeks, the country has averaged about 2,000 new cases a day — more than double its worst peak in January. The largest outbreak has been reported in Bangkok, which is under a partial lockdown.
On Wednesday, the government reported 34 deaths, a record, and 1,983 cases. One of those who died was from Finland.
Thailand was among the most effective countries last year in controlling the virus, but it has been slow to contain outbreaks this year and has lagged behind other countries in procuring vaccines.
Now, with the latest surge in cases, it is scrambling to obtain shots and to develop a mass inoculation program.
Some officials have declared that foreigners will not be vaccinated despite earlier outbreaks among migrant workers from Myanmar and now among the African gemstone traders. Other officials have said that Thailand will inoculate foreigners but have not provided specifics.
Thailand, which has a population of about 70 million, is home to more than two million foreigners who live in the country legally. More than two million more are believed to live in the country illegally.
Over the years, the gem business has attracted traders from several predominantly Muslim countries in Africa, including Gambia, Guinea and Mali. Many of them have settled in Thailand, married Thai wives and import gemstones from Africa.
Sankung Kongeh, a trader from Gambia, said members of the African community gathered daily at their offices and at the market, where they work, talk and eat together. During Ramadan, which began April 12, many also have prayed together, he said.
It is precisely that kind of close social contact that has fueled outbreaks around the world, but Mr. Kongeh discounted the group prayers as a significant risk.
“The possibility of the Covid spread has nothing to do with praying together,” said Mr. Kongeh, who recently tested negative. “It’s during the time hanging out at the office where we have the AC on, the door closed, and we chat with each other, drinking hot tea. There could be 10 or 12 of us sitting together. We don’t talk to each other during prayer.”
Every night at 8, the stern-faced newscaster on Myanmar military T.V. announces the day’s hunted. The mug shots of those charged with political crimes appear onscreen. Among them are doctors, students, beauty queens, actors, reporters, even a pair of makeup bloggers.
Some of the faces look puffy and bruised, the likely result of interrogations. They are a warning not to oppose the military junta that seized power in a Feb. 1 coup and imprisoned the country’s civilian leaders.
As the midnight insects trill, the hunt intensifies. Military censors sever the internet across most of Myanmar, matching the darkness outside with an information blackout. Soldiers sweep through the cities, arresting, abducting and assaulting with slingshots and rifles.
The nightly banging on doors, as arbitrary as it is dreaded, galvanizes a frenzy of self-preservation. Residents delete their Facebook accounts, destroy incriminating mobile phone cards and erase traces of support for Myanmar’s elected government. As sleep proves elusive, it’s as if much of the nation is suffering a collective insomnia.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or an unregistered cellphone or a single note of foreign currency — could mean a prison sentence. Some of the military’s Orwellian diktats rivaled those of North Korea.
among them dozens of children.
rule by fear, it is also holding hostage a changed country. The groundswell of opposition to the coup, which has sustained protests in hundreds of cities and towns, was surely not in the military’s game plan, making its crackdown all the riskier. Neither the outcome of the putsch nor the fate of the resistance is preordained.
Myanmar’s full emergence from isolation — economic, political and social — only came five years ago when the military began sharing power with an elected government headed by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. A population that barely had any connection to the internet quickly made up for lost time. Today, its citizenry is well versed in social media and the power of protests tethered to global movements. They know how to spot a good political meme on the internet.
Their resistance to the coup has included a national strike and a civil disobedience movement, which have paralyzed the economy and roiled the government. Banks and hospitals are all but shut. Although the United Nations has warned that half the country could be living in poverty by next year because of the pandemic and the political crisis, the democratic opposition’s resolve shows no sign of weakening.
National Unity Government, a civilian authority set up after the elected leadership was expelled by the military. A popular tactic is to affix an image of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the coup leader, on the sole of a shoe, smashing his face into the ground with each step. During spot checks, the police now demand that people show their soles.
Ms. Thuzar Nwe says she wears her hair down to cover her tattoo, hoping the police won’t be too inquisitive.
“In Myanmar culture, if a woman has a tattoo, she’s a bad girl,” she said. “I broke the rules of culture. This revolution is a rare chance to eradicate dictatorship from the country.”
But the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, has built an entire infrastructure dedicated to one purpose: perpetuating its power for power’s sake.
Its bureaucracy of oppression is formidable. An army of informers, known as “dalan,” has reappeared, monitoring whispers and neighbors’ movements.
The blandly named General Administration Department, a vast apparatus that remained under military control even after the army had started sharing authority with the civilian government, is once again pressuring administrators to keep tabs on everyone’s political views. And local officials have taken to banging on doors and peering in homes, as a dreaded system of household registration is reintroduced.
revoked the publishing licenses of major private newspapers. Democracy will return soon, the military’s headlines insist. Banking services are running “as usual.” Health care with “modern machinery” is available. Government ministries are enjoying English-proficiency courses. Soft-shell crab cultivation is “thriving” and penetrating the foreign market.
acquiring Chinese-made weapons and Russian fighter jets. But its propaganda is stuck in a time warp from back when few challenged its narrative. There is no mention in its media of the military’s killing spree, the broken economy or the growing armed resistance. On Wednesday, the State Administration Council, as the junta calls itself, banned satellite T.V.
For all the fear percolating in Myanmar, the resistance has only hardened. On Wednesday, the National Unity Government said it was forming a “people’s defense force” to counter the Tatmadaw. Two days before, ethnic insurgents fighting in the borderlands shot down a Tatmadaw helicopter.
convince the military ranks that the coup was necessary, Tatmadaw insiders said. Sequestered in military compounds without good internet access, soldiers have little ability to tap into the outrage of fellow citizens. Their information diet is composed of military T.V., military newspapers and the echo chambers of military-dominated Facebook on the rare occasions they can get online.
Still, news does filter in, and some officers have broken rank. In recent weeks, about 80 Myanmar Air Force officers have deserted and are now in hiding, according to fellow military personnel.
“Politics are not the business of soldiers,” said an air force captain who is now in hiding and does not want his name used because his family might be punished for his desertion. “Now the Tatmadaw have become the terrorists, and I don’t want to be part of it.”
In the cities, almost everyone seems to know someone who has been arrested or beaten or forced to pay a bribe to the security forces in exchange for freedom.
Last month, Ma May Thaw Zin, a 19-year-old law student, joined a flash mob protest in Yangon, the country’s biggest city. The police, she said, detained several young women and crammed them into an interrogation center cell so small they barely had room to sit on the floor.
For a whole day, there was no food. Ms. May Thaw Zin said she resorted to drinking from the toilet. The interrogations were just her and a clutch of men. They rubbed against her and kicked her breasts and face with their boots, she said. On the fourth day, after men shoved the barrel of a pistol against the black hood over her head, she was released. The bruises remain.
Since she returned home, some family members have refused to have anything to do with her because she was caught protesting, Ms. May Thaw Zin said. Even if they hate the coup, even if they know their futures have been blunted, the instincts of survival have kicked in.
“They are afraid,” she said, but “I can’t accept that my country will go back to the old dark age.”