In Myanmar, pro-military groups are abusing and doxxing women.

A buddy urgently messaged Chomden in the summer of 2021 while she was traveling and thousands of miles from her home in Myanmar to let her know that a private film of her was being broadcast online.

The 25-year-old claimed that when she saw the message, she froze “like a statue,” causing her phone to drop from her grasp. She recently received a doxx.

A video of a naked Chomden, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, having sex with a previous boyfriend was making the rounds on a public Telegram channel, along with her name and Facebook profile picture, and many of the group’s roughly 10,000 followers had started sending her abusive messages.

It had only been six months since General Min Aung Hlaing, who established the State Administration Council (SAC) and currently serves as the caretaker administration of Myanmar as an unelected prime minister, led a military coup that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Chomden says she felt compelled to speak out on social media about the plight of Myanmar’s people and the junta’s swift and brutal repression of critical voices, sharing video testimonies from people still in the country. Chomden was on vacation when the February 1 coup took place and felt too afraid to return home.

Chomden had assumed that since she was far from home, she would be protected from any retaliation for her criticism of the ruling junta, but she had not thought about the prospect of online retaliation.

After the coup, her formerly private film had now been made public on a channel supported by the military that was used to disseminate dox and propaganda against the SAC. Chomden was identified as a supporter of Myanmar’s overthrown, democratically elected government by the National Unity Government (NUG) flag, which was filtered onto her Facebook photo.

The channel manager captioned the Telegram post in Burmese, reading: “The whore who is having sex with everyone and recording it in HD… Sense your place, slut!

Chomden claims that she was also subjected to blackmail by strangers who said they had more tapes of her, and without any close support, she felt alone. She admitted that she had considered suicide since the effects of the post were so severe on her mental state.

She said to CNN that “they wanted to ruin my life.”

Doxxed or mistreated by thousands of “politically active” women
20230126-RESTRICTED-doxcover \sJC
People banded together to defend cities and villages after the coup two years ago as official repression increased, and certain rebel armies with a long history of hostilities with the military merged under the People’s Defence Force (PDF), armed forces allied with the shadow government.

Since then, fighting has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee, and many now worry that a civil war may worsen.

But there are other forms of violence in Myanmar as well. Attacks are common online, and doxxing has become a popular tactic used by junta supporters to intimidate and suppress those they view as their rivals.

Men and women are being targeted in different ways when it comes to doxxing, which is the act of publicly identifying or releasing “private information about someone as a form of punishment or revenge.”

Several specialists from NGOs and digital rights groups in the area told CNN that when men are targeted, they often imply that they are associated with terrorist organizations trying to topple the junta. However, sexist hate speech is commonly included in attacks against women who have been doxxed, along with explicit sexual photos and video of the victims, as was the case with Chomden.

Furthermore, in Myanmar, even disclosing the names and identities of those who declare their support for democracy puts them at risk of arrest, while publishing private videos and images exposes them and their families to public shame.

Separate investigations by CNN and NGOs operating in Myanmar revealed that Telegram is where much of this activity is taking place. Since the military ordered Facebook to be temporarily blocked after the coup and has continued to do so ever since, activists are pleading with the Russian owners of the messaging service to act quickly to stop this violence from being spread via their app.

In pro-military Telegram channels, hundreds of sexual films and photographs have been used to abuse women, frequently because they have pro-democracy beliefs. Hundreds more have used sexual phrases to achieve the same ends, according to a CNN study. Following the coup, more than one million Telegram posts were examined in a separate study conducted by Myanmar Witness, a project of the UK-based Centre for Information Resilience that utilizes open-source techniques to identify human rights abuses, in partnership with grassroots group Sisters2Sisters.

Me Me Khant, who oversaw the Myanmar Witness study, told CNN that “we saw that (up to) 90% of the abusive posts were made by channels that look to be pro-military, pro-SAC, and ultra-nationalist parties… targeted towards pro-democracy women.”

On July 14, 2021, a group of women in Yangon, Myanmar, hold torches as they demonstrate against the military takeover.
On July 14, 2021, a group of women in Yangon, Myanmar, hold torches as they demonstrate against the military takeover.
Ten public pro-military Telegram channels operating from the start of the coup and the end of 2022 were found by CNN as having some of the highest concentrations of sexual imagery and video footage. To evaluate these channels, CNN hired a data science firm with experience in Myanmar. Due to worries regarding their safety, CNN is refusing to name the business. During that time, more than 178,000 posts were shared, and at the time of study, one channel had more than 42,000 subscribers.

There were 1,199 entries with sexual content, many of which were sexually explicit photographs (204) and videos (187). Almost all of the pictures and videos (98%) targeted women, frequently using sexually explicit language in remarks that denigrated their support for democracy. Nearly six months after being first released elsewhere, Chomden’s movie was still being shared on one of the channels that were examined.

Misogyny was prevalent in a public Telegram channel that CNN watched separately, and disclosing the identities and addresses of women was routine. In one message, an administrator used derogatory sexual language against a woman for supporting the pro-democracy movement and questioned her fertility. The caption on the post read, “Because of her terrible attitude, she could not get pregnant.” It was originally written in Burmese. Other posters published addresses demanding for the homes and businesses of women to be raided and their owners to be apprehended.

The most recent Myanmar Witness report offered more proof of this online abuse, which targets both well-known women and women in general. More than 1.6 million postings from 100 Telegram channels were examined by the team, including 64% pro-military and 64% pro-democracy channels (36). From fewer than five posts per day on average in the early months following the coup in February 2021 to more than 40 posts per day on average by July 2022, with more than 80 abusive posts on some days, on the channels they observed, posts containing abusive terms targeting women increased eight-fold.

A second examination of the messages’ content by the non-profit examined the types of abuse and hate speech in 220 posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram (the majority on Telegram), and it was discovered that at least half of the posts were doxxing women in apparent retaliation for their political views or actions, with the majority of the posts targeting women seen as pro-democracy. In 28% of the doxxing posts analyzed, there was a clear request for the women being harassed to be punished offline. According to the survey, the “vast bulk” of abusive posts against women who opposed the military coup in Myanmar were from male-presenting identities who supported the coup.

The data acquired during the inquiry is “very likely,” according to Myanmar Witness’s report, to reflect only a small sample of political harassment directed at women online. The same holds true for the CNN analysis, indicating that given that the assessments only included public channels and not private groups or communications, they most likely merely represent the tip of the iceberg.

The report goes on to suggest that some pro-military Telegram channels appear to be coordinating with the military itself, doxxing women who oppose it and seeming to make sure the junta is aware of private details that could be used to locate and arrest them. Several experts expressed concern to CNN about links between these channels and the military. It focuses on two instances of women who were detained immediately after being doxxed and posters praising or taking credit for their detentions.

“We’ve witnessed two high-profile examples where two recognizable ladies were detained immediately following doxxing. In addition, the channels celebrated their arrests. When things like this happen, you can’t help but wonder: Would they have been jailed at the time even if they hadn’t been doxxed?, Khant said CNN.

Digital rights group Access Now’s Asia Pacific policy analyst Wai Phyo Myint discusses the vast spectrum of important offline effects. “People are being driven into exile, blackmailed, or arrested. As a result of the doxxing, some people have lost their jobs and forced to go into hiding, while others have lost their homes and companies.

CNN contacted the Myanmar military for comment, but they did not answer.

On Telegram channels identifying as pro-democracy, Myanmar Witness did observe some harassment and doxxing, but to a far lesser extent. In response, gender disparity was recognised as a problem in the nation by Aung Myo Min, Minister of Human Rights for the National Unity Government. According to Myo Min, who spoke to CNN, harassment based on gender or sexual orientation is widespread in Myanmar, on all sides, and “it clearly illustrates the need (for) work, education, and explanation needed on gender equality.” However, he also urged social media sites to respond and develop a stronger reporting system. They are responsible for their portion of the obligations, he stated.

Reiterating the Terms of Service, Telegram’s spokeswoman Remi Vaughn said in a statement to CNN: “Telegram is a platform for free speech. Our Terms of Service, however, expressly restrict “doxxing,” or the sharing of confidential information, as well as “calling for violence.”

The Terms of Service for the site did not explicitly address doxxing, but CNN did note that it forbade the promotion of violence and the transmission of illegal pornographic material on “publicly viewable Telegram channels, bots, etc.” The platform also offers an email address for reporting this content: [email protected].

When CNN inquired further about the existence or absence of doxxing rules in Telegram’s publicly posted Terms of Service, they received no response.

As a “targeted weapon,” sexual violence
Gender stereotypes are ubiquitous in Myanmar and are encouraged by traditional, religious, and cultural practices, according to a 2015 research by the Global Justice Center, an international human rights and humanitarian law organization seeking to achieve gender equality.

The report said that “Women in Burma are usually perceived to be secondary to men,” and Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, thinks that little has changed in the eight years after its release.

She thinks that the general perception of women in Myanmar is still that they are “silent, meek,” and that their bodies are considered “as a public collateral.” She also thinks that the assaults on women in pro-military Telegram groups are a reflection of what the military itself would do.

According to Radhakrishnan, “The Myanmar military has utilized sexual and gender-based violence as a targeted weapon for decades.” “The military truly views women and women’s bodies in a pretty restricted worldview, and that reflects in the crimes that they commit against women, whether that be physical violence or other sorts of abuse, the most recent of which is the use of technology.”

However, the nation’s pro-democracy movement has long included women; it was formerly spearheaded by ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her dedication to the cause. Following the coup, women played a crucial role in organizing pro-democracy demonstrations, and analysts believe that as more women participated in these demonstrations, doxxing attacks started and grew harsher.

On March 8, 2022, anti-coup demonstrators march through Yangon, Myanmar, in honor of International Women’s Day.
On March 8, 2022, anti-coup demonstrators march through Yangon, Myanmar, in honor of International Women’s Day.
File: Myat Thu Kyaw/NURPHO/AP
According to Radhakrishnan, “a woman who is stigmatized for her body or for sexual behavior signifies that that woman no longer has value inside the society.”

Chomden told CNN that it only took a few hours for her to start experiencing online sex harassment and bullying after she was doxxed. As word traveled around the neighborhood, she claimed that the messages began to stream in—first from strangers abusing her, then, she claimed, from friends horrified by her “shameful” actions.

Chomden claimed that her mother, who is still a resident of Myanmar, took the brunt of the abuse, staying inside for three months out of concern that others who had seen or heard about the video would disgrace and shun her.

The military had filed an arrest warrant for Chomden for her activities in April 2021, making the possibility even more horrifying. Chomden continues to support the NUG but is afraid to go back home after the coup. “How could I… with so much shame?,” she said CNN.

increasing women’s self-censorship
Doxxing, according to Victoire Rio, a digital rights activist working in Myanmar, is a component of a bigger plan to persuade people to “censor themselves.”

Rio told CNN, “If I should put a timeline to this, you will see that right after the coup, the military were going for everybody that had the ability to unite people: that includes influencers, movie stars, important activists, type of local powerful persons.”

Rio said that this was accomplished by accusing them of violating penal code 505, which, according to Human Rights Watch, was altered to punish a wider range of opponents of the coup and the military, for speaking out against the military. But Rio said, “That wasn’t particularly effective.”

As a result, Rio thinks there was a change in tactics in the summer of 2021. When that happens, Rio claimed, “doxxing, harassment, and targeting really begins to target anybody and everyone, going beyond influential figures.” A particularly successful tactic to encourage self-censorship and effectively intimidate people into silence is the “campaign of terror.”

Although this cannot be directly related to the military, there is evidence of activity in open Telegram channels run by pro-military individuals. Digital rights activist Htaike Htaike Aung thinks it has been successful to suppress critics by using sexually graphic content. She stated to CNN that more and more women and gender minorities are becoming hesitant to express their ideas as a result of all the doxxing that has taken place.

left with no option except to depart
JC Linn, whose full name is withheld by CNN for security reasons, is a social activist who has spoken out since 2017 on women’s rights and human rights abuses in Myanmar.

According to her interview with CNN, she was detained at Insein Prison in Yangon for eight months after being detained on March 3, 2021, for planning non-violent protests in response to the coup.

The 34-year-old started speaking out about how prisoners at Insein are treated not long after she was released. (Sexual abuse and other forms of gendered harassment and humiliation from police and military personnel have been reported in Myanmar jails since the coup, according to a 2021 Human Rights Watch study.)

On social media and to news media organizations, Linn claimed, “I spoke out about violence and human rights violations in prison.” I also advocated for increased public involvement in the revolution through speeches and campaigns.

Insein prison’s military administrators did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

A week after being freed, Linn came under attack on a well-known pro-military Telegram channel that at the time had more than 18,000 subscribers. She was released little more than two weeks ago, and she is already acting in the same way, according to her doxxer, who posted photos of her Facebook posts documenting what she claimed was happening inside Insein as well as images of her with deposed leader Suu Kyi. Perhaps she should return inside. Others in the group quickly retaliated with more sexist insults.

The argumentative posts and the subsequent dialogue were visible to CNN. Kill her! was one of the comments. Another said: “After everyone has f**ked her, pronounce her verdict,” and numerous more said things along those lines. Later posts continued.

Following her release from prison, Linn had sought refuge at her organization’s safe home (which CNN is not naming out of fear for their safety), but after being doxxed, it became increasingly difficult for her to leave. She stated, “Religious fanatics and military supporters started keeping watch in the neighborhoods I was likely to be in.

She admitted to CNN that while she was determined not to feel ashamed, she was concerned for other people’s safety. I was aware that anyone living in the safe house would be targeted if I were to be detained again.

A year after her tragedy started, in March 2022, Linn escaped the safe home and started her escape from Myanmar. I didn’t care if I was detained again since I didn’t want anyone else to be detained as a result of me.

There is minimal platform accountability thus far from Telegram.
The moderators of the platform can be notified of the activity on these Telegram channels, and some channels have been removed as a result. As well as channels mentioned in a recent BBC investigation, Telegram removed a channel that CNN shared shortly after it was noticed. While experts noted that many hazardous channels are never removed, CNN observed that when channels are blocked, other ones quickly replace them.

14 public Telegram channels that were violating the “human rights of people of Myanmar” in various ways, such as posting sexually explicit imagery and videos of women without their consent, were listed in January 2022 by a digital civil rights organization working in the area (which CNN is not naming to protect the safety of their teams). All of the channels were started by a pro-military social influencer who manages multiple channels on Telegram.

The group claims to have provided Telegram the document, which CNN was able to view, along with a few case studies and a letter expressing concern that this was occurring on its platform and urging Telegram to uphold UN human rights values. However, they claim they haven’t heard back after a year and that the harassment is still occurring often.

While Telegram has since removed the channels owned by these pro-military personalities, Myint of Access Now points out that other channels still operate under the same name. Why doesn’t Telegram take more aggressive measures to prevent users with the same name from opening up new channels?

According to Telegram’s response to CNN, violating its Terms of Service includes doxxing, uploading sexual content, and encouraging violence. Additionally, it stated: “To remove such content from our platform, our moderators combine proactive moderation with user reports. This explicit stance has made it possible for pro-democracy movements to securely plan massive demonstrations using our platform, including in Iran, Hong Kong, and Belarus.

Rio, though, thinks that Telegram did not take on this function in Myanmar. In regards to Myanmar, she claimed, “Telegram professes to be such a revolutionary platform assisting Iranians, (and) Hong Kongers, but it fails to see how the platform is abused.”

When CNN specifically asked Telegram whether it modifies content in the Burmese language or why abusive, doxxing, and pornographic posts on public channels persist in defiance of the platform’s Terms of Service, Telegram did not respond.

Rio said, “We’ve seen zero efforts from Telegram to engage with Myanmar’s civil society and try to understand what actually is happening. Actually “engaging and getting a sense for what the risks connected with their platforms are and developing methods to be in a better position to handle concerns that surface” is what they need to do.

When CNN followed up with a question about why Telegram was purportedly not responding to emails and memoranda from digital rights activists operating in Myanmar and providing proof of widespread doxxing, Telegram did not react.

Chomden emphasizes the need for urgency, saying: “It’s not just me, hundreds of women in Myanmar are going through the same and it’s not okay. After being doxxed on one of the many pro-military Telegram channels in Myanmar, Chomden saw her life fall apart. Telegram must understand that it is unacceptable to allow these organizations to damage people’s lives.

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