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Covering an Uprising — 25 Years Later

Thursday marked the 25th anniversary of the 8.8.88 uprising in Myanmar, when widespread protests against the government were violently suppressed by the military, leading to roughly 3,000 deaths (the photo above, from Aug. 19, 1988, shows an anti-government protester getting treated for gunshot wounds). This year, for the first time, the 8.8.88 anniversary was openly ...

STR/AFP/Getty Images, Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images
STR/AFP/Getty Images, Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images

Thursday marked the 25th anniversary of the 8.8.88 uprising in Myanmar, when widespread protests against the government were violently suppressed by the military, leading to roughly 3,000 deaths (the photo above, from Aug. 19, 1988, shows an anti-government protester getting treated for gunshot wounds).

This year, for the first time, the 8.8.88 anniversary was openly commemorated in Myanmar with a large gathering in Yangon. (In 2011, President Thein Sein launched an ongoing effort to implement cautious reforms and open the country to the outside world.) On Thursday, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi addressed a crowd in the capital that included former student activists. “Whatever we do we must not take grudges against each other,” she declared. “We will have to heal the wounds the country suffered by showing love and compassion.”

During commemorations, approximately 50 people marched through Yangon in an “unauthorized procession” and refused to stop when asked by police. No violence occurred, but a telling photograph captured police photographing the marchers rather than confronting them.

Media outlets in Myanmar, which were strictly censored under the country’s long-ruling military junta, have been reporting on the anniversary this year amid a broader — if fitful — resurgence of the press. The private, English-language Myanmar Times, for example, ran a spread of images from 1988 and wrote that they were “proud to publish these incredible images in its pages for the first time” (another recent article noted that patriotic songs banned since 1988 are now playing on the radio, in a sign of changing times). Eleven Myanmar, meanwhile, has been aggressively covering the commemorations — everything from art shows to speeches by government officials. And it’s tackled thorny issues, including the pace of reform in Myanmar and the question of whether imprisoned militant student activists from that period should be considered “political prisoners” or “mass murderers.” “This may be one of many difficult yet necessary debates to emerge about Myanmar’s past and pro-democracy struggle as the country undergoes a fragile transition from military rule,” the news outlet observed on the latter issue.

Still, it’s not exactly wall-to-wall coverage. The state-run, English-language New Light of Myanmar didn’t mention the anniversary in its Aug. 8 edition — with the front page instead featuring the headline, “Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and wife attend monsoon tree-planting ceremony.”

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