The Threat of Neo-Seik Phwars

Writer: 
Nay Htun Naing

“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who weild it and fear of the scourge of power corrupt those who are subject to it. Most Burmese are familiar with the four A-gati, the four kinds of corruption. Chanda-gati, corruption induced by desire, is deviation from the right path in pursuit of bribes or for the sake of those one loves. Dosa-gati is taking the wrong path to spite those against whom one bears ill will, and Moga-gati is aberration due to ignorance. But perhaps the worst of the four is Bhaya-gati, for not only does Bhaya, fear, stifle and slowly destroy all sense of right and wrong, it so often lies at the root of the other three kinds of corruption. Just as Chanda-gati, when not the result of sheer avarice, can be caused by fear or want of fear of losing the goodwill of those one loves, so fear of being surpassed, humiliated and injured in some way can provide the impetus for ill will. And it would be difficult to dispel ignorance unless there is freedom to pursue the truth unfettered by fear. With so close a relationship between fear and corruption, it is little wonder that in any society where fear is rife corruption in all forms become deeply entrenched.”

Aung San Suu Kyi

Freedom From Fear

-excerpt from Dr Aung Khin’s translation of the book

Her book, “Freedom From Fear”, got published in 1991 and it tried to show the way out, an escape from the fear that has rooted in our society to the core by showing us the ill effects of being afraid.

Ever since 1962, Myanmar was never safe from fear ever since the military dictators lorded over the country.

As such, as many as there were those who would not back down from the oppression of tyrannous fear, there were also those who would ‘thrown stones from the dark’. Those figurative stone throwers – instigators - were present throughout the years but their numbers multiplied starting around 2005 and even more so after 2010.

When the internet took center stage in the world, they took their place as stone throwers at nearly every phase of popular internet mediums; websites, blogs and now, the extremely widespread social media called Facebook.

They came to be known as “Seik Phwar”.

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When President Thein Sein came into power, we first and foremost faced those stone throwers, in charge of spreading the propaganda of the dictators. They worked in a systematic group. We do not know who they are but we do know that they will not bear responsibility for their words. They were efficient tools of the dictators; ruthless in their efforts in spreading misinformation, instigations and character assassinations for the sake of protecting their masters.

They managed to build the illusion of being the unfiltered mouth of the people (and becoming to believe their own lies as the truth). As one favor for another, they were often protected by dictators.

But the real voice of the voiceless, the people, did not fall for their ploys and responded back by placing no trust in them.

We disclosed information on one such individual nicknamed “Prof Dr Seik Phwar” as well as the organization at his back.

But alas, “Prof Dr Seik Phwar” still strives and thrives because even though the matter reached the level of the parliaments, no proper investigations were conducted as he and his ilk of dictator “Seik Phwar” were protected by those in power.

If we examine Upper House Speaker Khin Aung Myint’s words on the individual, “Prof Dr Seik Phwar”, he was described as one who made personal (character) attacks, instigator, and a coward afraid of the truth and responsibility as well as someone who corrupts the freedom of the press.

Ever since then, any who fall under the four above mentioned categories are classified as “Seik Phwar”.

No matter who or which organization he or she represents, any who would falls under such unethical descriptions are “Seik Phwar”.

Things quiet down for a little while for the dictator “Seik Phwar” after the 2015 elections but they still remain. The notoriously pro-dictator “Myanmar Express” website was taken down but still they are active on Facebook. The same goes for “Pyithu Arnar” (People’s Authority) who is still spreading propaganda.

At a time when the old generations are still around, to get a whole new generation of “Seik Phwar”, “Neo Seik Phwar” if you will, is something nobody wants.

They are those that we will see next; probably actually used to be those who are against the “Seik Phwar”” behavior but have slowly turned into the image of their enemies with Facebook posts meant to rile up the people by spreading personal misinformation and trying to step on and restrict the freedom of the press.

And by attacking press freedom, they also attack against a basic personal right to any individual; a right to know.

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The very first misstep of the National League for Democracy supporters, one which will lead the down the “Seik Phwar” path, is becoming more evident.

On 5th Jan, RFA broadcasted their interview with Win Htein, one of NLD’s central executive committee members on the next government and name of the presidential candidate. The journalist did what he was supposed to do; he asked the questions based on the public’s right to know. The questions did not go overboard, in contrary to many of the rumors and misinformation being spread right now.

It is in the power of the interviewee as well to deny answer to questions as well as stop any part of the interview from going up in the air. As a side note, before this incident occurred, I personally called Win Htein to clarify on rumors that Aung San Suu Kyi has offered cabinet minister Aung Min the position of a minister to which Win Htein described these rumors as “manipulative” and as “f*cking crazy words”. Since the latter was not the words someone of high status in a political party should use so we had to think twice when publishing it. I called him up again to reconfirm whether he wants such words to be published and got his express permission. However, the words was changed into “crazy words” instead of “f*cking crazy words” when it was published.

The point is that his problem of not watching his language has been around for quite some time and us journalists has often run into it. There are many cases where comments and interviews were not omitted as they were not appropriate and cases where the phone call was not hanged up after speaking to a journalist and divulge into things that should not be talked to the press. Many instances were largely tolerated and got left behind as things that only occurred between the journalist and Win Htein.

It is his character flaw – a weakness unbecoming of a person with authority of a spokesperson. It is not a personal attack on Win Htein or the NLD when it is criticized that NLD needs a better spokesperson.

The criticisms only multiplied when RFA’s interview went public; his answers were described as being totally different from NLD’s policies and are ill fitting of a high ranking authority. The criticisms were unavoidable.

I disagree with the opinion that RFA should not have published the interview. The interviewee is the one with the right to prohibit anything from going public and I am sure that most journalists will often ask when sensitive information is concerned. The interviewee must already be aware in advance that whatever he says is not only to a select group of media but to the multitudes. If it was asked to not be published and it still went public, it would have been the unethical fault of the journalist.

Another point to make is that Win Htein said “News Media” instead of just “RFA”, which forced the inclusion of every media out there.

The fault lies with Win Htein but such an error was never acknowledged.

In the 10 January issue of the Messenger news journal, it was reported that Win Htein said that he was not angry or disturbed in anyway because the intentions behind the criticisms were good intentions.

It is not right because he should not be the one that feels slighted but us – the news media – because his words included every media outlet and we were the ones to say that he went overboard.

In the meantime, the newly inducted “Seik Phwar” who are calling themselves NLD supporters responded by instigation attacks on a personal level. Those who are constructive in their criticisms are not at fault here but those who made indiscriminate personal attacks. It even seemed like Win Htein himself is ordering those “Seik Phwar” because he kept quiet and refused to acknowledge his mistake.

The worst part is the notion of Win Htein’s words along the lines of “we are okay with the current government so you media needs to shut up”, was supported and agreed, thereby effectively stomping on the freedom of the press and people’s right to know.

Further more, methods used by dictator “Seik Phwar” such as organized group attacks were also made. Even before that, any who disagreed with NLD’s policies on the Social Media was mass reported and subsequently removed. These are the weapons, the tools of the dictators.

They, of course, have the right to deny and claim innocence but their actions speak louder than words.

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The people voted for the NLD because the people no longer want the exploits of dictators. The whole country rallied behind NLD’s motto of “Time to change” – something NLD supporters and the new “Seik Phwar” must know. It does not make anything different when your mouth cries “change” but your actions mimic those of the dictators.

We supported the NLD, the party with highest possibility of achieving a proper civilian government. We helped them out by going far and beyond just simply publishing them on our papers. Some may know while some may not but that is not important – the important objective was the formation of a civilian government which rewards meritocracy.

But the current government and the international media have certain opinions of us.

Before the elections, Eleven Media Group’s CEO Dr. Than Htut Aung was interviewed by Reuter’s Beijing Bureau reporter. His main line of questioning is why does the Eleven support the NLD? His agenda seems to be the breach of code of ethics as a journalist by being biased. The CEO replied by saying that it was not biased towards the NLD but rather utilizing the influence of a news media to further cement that possibility of a civilian government for the people. But he refused to give up this line of questioning and asked even more accusatory questions, ones which can even provoke anger when heard, but was stopped by Dr Than Htut Aung to stop these line of questions. It was also asked not to be published and Reuters complied with our wishes.

The point is that the reason why we supported the NLD is because we want a civilian government. The NLD won the election by a landslide and we did not expect any kind of reward for our efforts.

On November 10, after the election, CEO called all editors and reporters for a meeting.

“The election is over. NLD won and we can now have a civilian government. As to our help towards NLD, just take it as part of your jobs. Forget your utmost efforts and support because we are journalists and we have the duty to blow the whistle as journalists are required to when NLD comes into power – just as we did to the current government, we will criticize things that needs criticizing and give credit to things that needs them. Remember and do your jobs,” said Dr Than Htut Aung.

Win Htein’s interview debacle reminded me of the late General Aung San’s comments on newspapers back in 1947. On this matter, we look at 11 January’s edition of 7 Day newspaper to the article written in-depth by author Ba Si.

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General Aung San described the media as “Goat Testicles” – always shifting sides. He criticized the media to stand for one side only, whether they supported Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League or not.

When Oh Wai Nyo Mya replied to those words, it is said “Goat testicles hang between the legs of the goat. When the Goat moves around, testicles tend to stick every so often to either legs. Is the General’s criticism and by extension wish for the good of the media? It implies to write biased stories, not to stand in the middle and not to be objective. Therefore, it also urges to break ethics and natures. If General does not want “Goat Testicles” newspaper, what does he want? Does he want honey-potting newspapers, prostitute newspapers, hand-in-glove newspapers, prison newspapers and pimp newspapers? They will be there as ordered.”

General Aung San was not mad and stopped saying things like that. There were no fuss from and between supporters and non-supporters. General Aung San did what a politician said and did while Oh Wai Nyo Mya did his duty from a journalist’s point of view. Everyone is doing their job. It was just criticism on the nature of a journalistic line of work.

Frankly speaking, both of them were good friends. When Oh Wai Nyo Mya retorted back at the General for things that he said, General Aung San did not lash out by responding with personal attacks and Oh Wai Nyo Mya did likewise. So did the supporters and non-supporters.

Everybody understood what is their role and job in the fight against the English, the struggle for independence and so no one kicked up a storm over things.

The current issue is just like that case. There is a friendly relation between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Dr Than Htut Aung. And Dr Than Htut Aung has a respectful relation with U Win Htein.

Criticizing U Win Htein may not harm the friendly relation between Dr Than Htut Aung and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. And there is no any reason for Dr Than Htut Aung to have a disconnect with U Win Htein. Other side will be like so. This means that both sides themselves know their works.

But those so-called “NLD supporters” who will become neo-“Seik Phwar” do not think so. Not all NLD supporters and members are neo-Seik Phwar. Here I refer only to some people who make personal attacks. Everybody have the rights to criticize any person. It is acceptable that criticism is made attributively. Criticism and personal attack is different. What I am talking about is the personal attack. Personal attacks are made by mixing 20 percent correctness with 80 percent misinformation. They throw stones from the dark by forming the groups and have no accountability and reasonability. Those who are doing such acts can be called “Seik Phwar”. They should not behave like that if they don’t want such name. They would not suffer any losses if they don’t do it. 

There is only a handful of person who follows in the steps of Dr Seik Phwar. Those who are mainly involved in the group will be less than 15 in number, with around 1000 followers who are hand in glove with them. We will expose who they are and where they are from, after making the detail investigation into the facts about them. We will proceed with the remaining works in accord with the laws.

Apart from it, there is no way to ensure a fearless human society equipped with accountability and responsibility.

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We have already known those involved in the group. San Maung who is one of the to-be-neo-Seik Phwars was warned that their acts are erroneous and they should not do it irresponsibly without having the understanding of the principles of criticism.

He is a ship captain. I sent a text message to him via facebook messenger on the evening of January 9, saying that we respect freedom of speech and don’t accept the undisciplined acts like throwing stones from the dark.  I warn you not to follow in the step of Dr Seik Phwar if he does not like to be named “neo-Seik Phwar” group.

After an argument with me, he told me that he ‘would not write it any more’ and promised that he would remove his posts. I told him via facebook messenger as I don’t want to write it in the article and sue them after exposing each of them. But the next morning, San Maung blocked me as Dr Seik Phwar did. He continues to smear the person and the organization he represents.

Another point he is making is that the undertakings of those who will become neo-Seik Phwars would not stop.

Anyway, their undertakings may reach a danger level as Dr Seik Phwar did. The government led by President Thein Sein lost its reputation due to the activities of Dr Seik Phwar. The government’s activities do not surface even if the administration has good reputations. I don’t want to see the reputation losses of the government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi due to the acts done by neo-Seik Phwars.

Another point is voices of the voiceless. People had to live in fear under the successive dictators and their propaganda. We don’t want such fear, threats and oppression whatever government comes to power.

Now, neo-Seik Phwars should review their acts. They are the same as dictators if they follow in the step of Dr Seik Phwar.

Now it is the time to practically carry out a spiritual revolution as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in her essay “Freedom from Fear”

In the essay, she said: “The quintessential revolution is that of the spirit, born of an intellectual conviction of the need for change in those mental attitudes and values which shape the course of a nation's development. A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of genuine success. Without a revolution of the spirit, the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order would continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration. It is not enough merely to call for freedom, democracy and human rights. There has to be a united determination to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths, to resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance and fear.”

As she said, what we need to do is a revolution of spirits, but not a keyboard revolution. For that, we are to prevent neo-Seik Phwars from going ahead.

In addition, each and every citizen is to remove their fears and take responsibility for what they said and wrote. And we need to use the real profile name online and criticize others without personal attacks.

Soon the NLD-led government is coming to power. Necessary preparations should be made for seeking the ways of how to take legal actions when neo-Seik Phwars emerge under the name of “NLD Supporters” and how to deal with the situation when some neo-Seik Phwars who live in foreign countries behave in a rampant manner. For that, we need to study the ways of how to tackle cybercrimes in cooperation with embassies and the international governments such as Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Japan, and the laws in other countries.

We need to amend the electronic transition law and the telecommunication law by finding out their weak points. And the systematic preparation should be made to handle the cases in accord with the cyber law.

Now we are studying the cyber laws to file a suit against some neo-Seik Phwars from Singapore, if necessary.