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Using Pamphlets for Propaganda Misinformation Intimidation and Division

Myanmar Witness

18 Jul 2022

Report Published:

Investigation into the use of pamphlets by the SAC in Myanmar

Executive Summary

Since April 2021, Myanmar Witness has documented the dissemination of pro-regime propaganda pamphlets in areas associated with resistance to the military coup in Myanmar, including at sites in Yangon (ရန်ကုန်), Sagaing (စစ်ကိုင်းတိ), Magway (မကွေးမြို့), Chin (ချင်းပြည်နယ်), and Kachin State (ကချင်ပြည်နယ်). These pamphlets sew religious and political divisions, promote anti-Muslim rhetoric, and include graphic imagery and threats to life. The pamphlets contain misleading or unverified information, which is often accompanied with a ‘fact-checked’ stamp. The alleged distribution of these pamphlets at times occurred at the same time as internet cuts, limiting the ability of the target populations to fact check the information. Common narratives in the leaflets allegations that the NUG and anti-regime groups were vote-stealers, terrorists, committing grave acts of violence against the civilian population and associated with the drugs trade.


This research has identified a number of ‘warnings’ to the public contained within the pamphlets, including threats of potential attacks or legal action against those helping Pro-Democracy Forces (PDF) or those involved in anti-regime activities, such as the Silent Strike. At the time of reporting, Myanmar Witness is aware of one location where such a warning was reported and where Myanmar Witness was able to verify footage showing damage to the village consistent with allegations of a military attack. These attacks came one month after the pamphlets reportedly appeared in the village. However, Myanmar Witness cannot confirm that this attack was linked to the pamphlets disseminated.


Myanmar Witness has documented and investigated trends in the pamphlets’ aesthetic appearance, discourse, imagery and methods of distribution. While Myanmar Witness cannot officially verify the source of these pamphlets, this investigation suggests that many of the pamphlets originated from the same, pro-regime source. This investigation has indicated that there is a desire to control the narrative within Myanmar, as seen through the concurrent shutdown of internet and the dissemination of pamphlets which seek to intimidate, suppress and divide populations.


Introduction and Context


Since April 2021, Myanmar Witness has documented claims of air dropped pamphlets have been reported throughout Myanmar. This reports identified a number of common themes within the pamphlets: the spread of misinformation, the use of intimidation, and attempts to sow division within the population.


At first, the distribution of pamphlets of this kind, and in this manner, might seem obsolete when state-owned media networks, for example the Global New Light of Myanmar (GNLM), are spreading pro-regime rhetoric via more modern forms of media: television, online news media, social media, and newspapers. However, when the context is considered, including the targeted locations and methods of dissemination - airdrops or hand deliveries allegedly by plain-clothed individuals - this phenomena begins to make more sense. This research suggests that the pamphlets may serve as a method to disseminate information to large areas of the population who are routinely disconnected from the internet, as well as to combat the levels of resistance and anti-regime activity in specific areas of the country.


The Myanmar military regime has intermittently shut down internet and mobile data in the country since the February 2021 coup – especially early on in their takeover – as evidenced by Netblocks data from 2021 which shows significant communication restrictions. Throughout March 2021, the internet in Myanmar was cut-off from 0100 to 0630 local time. On 15 March 2021, cellular network connectivity was also shut off from 0000 and remained cut off for at least 100 days, until 11 May 2021, when Netblocks stopped reporting on mobile data connectivity in Myanmar. The distribution of pamphlets during times of internet blackouts could signal a desire to control the media narrative by disseminating information and propaganda to individuals, while disabling their ability to access other news sources, or fact-check information. As such pamphlets could provide an alternative to traditional methods of disseminating information and propaganda.


In some instances, these propaganda leaflets have reportedly targeted north-western regions of Myanmar - regions where there have been notable rebellions against the regime and which are harder to access due to their rural and mountainous geography. For example, the northern Chin State (ချင်းပြည်နယ်) and the northeast Sagaing Region (စစ်ကိုင်းတိုင်းဒေသကြီ) are both areas where long-standing ethnic armed groups have extended training, weapons and operational support to increasing numbers of PDFs. In a report by Myanmar Now internet cuts from September onwards were linked to intensified conflict in the areas of Chin, Magway Region (မကွေးတိုင်းဒေသကြီး) and Sagaing Region (စစ်ကိုင်းတိုင်းဒေသကြီ). In early October, the Security Administration Council (SAC) launched “Operation Anawrahta” (အနော်ရထာ စစ်ဆင်ရေး), a convoy-oriented operation targeting Chin State (ချင်းပြည်နယ်) and, in the Sagaing Region (စစ်ကိုင်းတိုင်းဒေသကြီ), a separate offensive named “Operation Alaungmintayar" (အလောင်းမင်းတရား စစ်ဆင်ရေ). Conflict is reported to have taken place throughout October and into November (Asia Times, 2021) parts of which have also been documented by Myanmar Witness.


Figure 1: Satellite imagery highlighting the geographic areas of Chin State (ချင်းပြည်နယ်), Magway Region (မကွေးတိုင်းဒေသကြီး) and Sagaing Region (စစ်ကိုင်းတိုင်းဒေသကြီ), where instances of these pamphlets began appearing after November 2021.


Locals reported that aircrafts were used to distribute the pamphlets across the northern regions, and they speculated that their use within conflict areas was due to a fear of local PDFs and mine attacks. As well as providing access to hard to reach locations and preventing confrontation on the ground, aircrafts could help to obscure the individuals responsible for the dissemination of this information.


The rhetoric analysed within these pamphlets appears to sew and reinforce inter-group divisions, including religious divides, through the proliferation of false statistics and unevidenced claims about Muslim citizens or local defence groups. Additionally, the type of misinformation or unverified information contained within these pamphlets appears to target those rebelling against military movements in the north. If the SAC really intends to eventually call for democratic elections in the state, these pamphlets could help to denounce the National Unity Government (NUG) and National League for Democracy (NLD), as some of these pamphlets directly reference these political parties and link them to violence and the drug trade. The language and imagery suggests that the PDF are associated with brutal acts against civilians. This sentiment may be being used to discourage locals from supporting the PDF and represent an attempt to increase military support.


Myanmar Witness has also tracked pamphlets containing warnings or thinly-veiled threats which were disseminated to the public, specifically targeting those who might be directly involved in anti-regime activity, or indirectly involved through providing aid and shelter to anti-regime activists. This furthers the idea these pamphlets seek to stoke intergroup tensions, including between friends and family of dissidents in Myanmar. This comes at a time when reports indicate a stark increase in Burmese parents and friends disowning their anti-regime family members. This has included public denunciations through announcements on state-owned media channels (South China Morning Post, 2022). These threats to personal security could disincentivise people from engaging in protest and other anti-regime advocacy in Myanmar.


Since the beginning of 2022, Myanmar Witness has also collected images of signs and leaflets containing overt threats of legal and military repercussions for those who engage in anti-regime activities such as: attending the nationwide Silent Strike; housing PDF members; and, supporting political opposition movements or local defence forces. This pivot indicates a more threatening and less subversive attempt to control the narrative in Myanmar. However, Myanmar Witness has been unable to verify many of the claims involved, including the location of images of pamphlets, the way they were disseminated, or who created and/or disseminated these pamphlets.


Methodology

Myanmar Witness follows a methodology of digital preservation and rigorous, replicable analysis. Digital evidence is collected and archived in a secure database and preserved with hashing to confirm the authenticity and prevent tampering.




Geolocation is conducted using a varied array of open source online tools such as Google Earth to match satellite imagery with visual features identified in the footage or images. A high burden of proof is required to match imagery and geolocations are required to be cross-checked and peer-reviewed before they are credited as verified and included in Myanmar Witness reporting.


Chronolocation is typically conducted by analysing UGC timestamps to determine hard end limits for the possible time frame. This can then be followed with contextual analysis, for example comparing against known indicators such as events or clocks visible, weather, and shadows. Shadow angle is determined after geolocation and its orientation is used to determine the position of the sun and thus time. This is not always incredibly specific but chronolocation is included as specifically as possible without incorrectly attributing time in order to account for possible issues.


If dealing with unverified information, such as witness testimony or the inclusion of outside reporting, Myanmar Witness has made known that these inclusions are claims and have not been independently verified by Myanmar Witness, but their inclusion may still be relevant to include as context around the investigation. Following ethical standards, Myanmar Witness has obscured identifying information about individuals involved, censored private information and images where appropriate, removed links to private individuals and archived said information securely. Where appropriate, Myanmar Witness has also censored or discluded graphic imagery in our reporting.


This particular report contains very little geolocation and chronolocation of the exact associated media due to the nature of the images. However, through gathering instances of these pamphlets and the areas they were alleged to have been dropped, Myanmar Witness has mapped out the areas claimed to have been affected by these leaflet drops and the times in which they are claimed to have happened, to analyse the possible motives or actors involved in the distribution of these pamphlets.


[Warning: Graphic] has been inserted ahead of links to sources which show graphic and distressing images of injured or dead persons.


Limitations


The information obtained by Myanmar Witness comes from an area of ongoing conflict so it is assumed that there is a selection bias, due to several factors including fear of repercussions for uploading, unavailability of information from official sources and availability, or lack thereof, the internet - which has also restricted the amount of media available to be verified by Myanmar Witness. Myanmar Witness strives to eliminate as much of this bias as possible by using both focussed and broad search terms in multiple languages across open sources as well as identifying media from multiple sources, such as social media and both pro and anti-regime news media to reduce the effects of this bias and ensure as much information from a range of sources is collected.


While there were plentiful allegations of propaganda drops, the media associated cannot often be chronolocated or geolocated due to the nature of the images, or the possibility that these images represent the same leaflets due to the similar aesthetic/uniform style of recent pamphlets. Images that have been geolocated are of individuals alleged to be involved in their dissemination; however, Myanmar Witness cannot confirm that any of these individuals pictured are verifiably involved in pamphlet dissemination and, where this is the case, Myanmar Witness has highlighted these complications to make the reader aware of the issues surrounding the verification of images related to the distribution of these pamphlets.


The following report may not have captured everything in relation to claims of propaganda leaflets due to the limitations of open source collection and verification. As a result, this report may not be able to capture the full picture.


Pro-SAC Propaganda Pamphlets


Images of pamphlets began to appear on social media around April 2021, following major clashes between the military and anti-regime forces throughout Myanmar. In the first half of 2021, this investigation found that the use of pamphlets was largely focussed in urban areas, including Yangon (ရန်ကုန်), and the northern State of Kachin (ကချင်ပြည်နယ်). From November 2021 to January 2022 there was an increase in social media posts regarding the distribution of pamphlets in Sagaing (စစ်ကိုင်းတိုင်းဒေသကြီ), Magway (မကွေးမြို့) and Chin State (ချင်းပြည်နယ်), many of which claimed that pamphlets had been disseminated by aeroplanes.


Internet Cuts

The pamphlets appear to target areas where the Myanmar military regime had cut internet access. These locations were sites of anti-regime protest or PDF activity. In early March 2021, the internet in Myanmar was cut-off from 0100 to 0630 local time, reported by Netblocks (Figure 2). On 15 March 2021 cellular network connectivity was shut off from 0000 and remained cut off for at least 100 days. On 16 April 2021, the same time that Myanmar Witness identified the first reports of propaganda pamphlets on social media, Netblocks reported the 62nd consecutive night of military-imposed shutdowns of network connectivity (Figure 3). Should the military be responsible for these pamphlets, the use of internet restrictions could provide evidence that the military seeks to control the narrative within Myanmar.


Figure 2: Network connectivity being shut off in Myanmar on the 15th of March.


Figure 3: Cellular connectivity is shut off on 16 April 2021.


APRIL 2021 - JUNE 2021


April 2021


Some of the first reports online of the military disseminating misleading and unverified information in pamphlets was identified by Myanmar Witness in April 2021. In mid-April 2021, following the February 2021 Coup, numerous reports on social media began to appear claiming that the military were handing out - and throwing from their cars - pamphlets with pro-regime rhetoric and messages denouncing anti-regime groups. In Yangon (ရန်ကုန်), it was reported that pamphlets were handed out on 15 April 2021, calling the NLD `vote thieves' and supporting the necessity of the military coup to establish stability in the country (Figure 4). On the same day, another pamphlet was reported on social media (Figure 5). While it was also in support of the military, it differed in that it was attributed to the Gen Z protest group. This was denied by the protest group, who pointed out small aesthetic differences between these pamphlets and their own pamphlet style. Additionally, locals reported that these pamphlets were thrown from military vehicles, but this cannot be confirmed by Myanmar Witness.



Figure 4: (above) pamphlets being handed out calling the NLD ‘vote thieves’.



Figure 5: (above) pamphlet showing military support claiming to be from the Gen Z protest group, the text reads ‘people need to trust our GenZ leadership and not to trust those power-hungry NLD and [Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, CRPH].’


On 15 April 2021, reports on social media began to surface that pamphlets containing pro-regime propaganda were being disseminated in Naypyidaw (နေပြည်တော်). References to the recent Hlaing Tharyar (လှိုင်သာယာ) protest crackdowns are seen in the content of the pamphlets - specifically the fires which the pamphlet claimed were set alight by protestors. On 15 April 2021, an image was taken on Taungyo Road, near Myoma Market in Naypyidaw (နေပြည်တော်) [19.748936, 96.089975] (Figure 7). The image claims to show a police officer disseminating pamphlets that state that the NLD and CRPH are destroying the country with the help of foreign countries. Even though the image is not high resolution, the individual seems to be wearing a similar uniform as that of an officer - same style of hat, shoulder material, colour of shirt, dark trousers and what could possibly be a mask (Figure 8). However, it cannot be verified that the individual pictured here was handing out these pamphlets to cars.




Figure 6: The 2 Pamphlets above claim the NLD and CRPH are destroying the country.


Figure 7 (above): Image of what appears to be a uniformed individual next to a car on Taungyo Road. Figure 8 (right): image of an officer’s uniform from a Reuters' report for reference.


Just a day later on the 16 April 2021, in Pyay Township (ပြည်မြို့), Bago region (ပဲခူးတိုင်းဒေသကြီ), it is claimed that the military were stopping cars in order to pass on similar propaganda pamphlets (Figure 9). Verification of the image attached to this claim indicates that the location is Pyay Township (ပြည်မြို့). While Myanmar Witness can confirm a time this event would have taken place in Pyay Township (ပြည်မြို့) due to shadow indication, around 0920, the date itself cannot be confirmed. Additionally, the leaflets that claim to have been disseminated by officers are a visual match for those seen in Figure 6.



Figure 9: Military pictured with what looks to be paper in their hands beside oncoming vehicles in Pyay Township. The background has been blurred by Myanmar Witness to protect the privacy of the original uploader.


Other incidents on 20 April 2021 suggest that pamphlets were being handed out in Pathein (ပုသိမ်ခရိုင်), Ayeyarwaddy Region (ဧရာဝတီတိုင်းဒေသကြီး), by military members with a similar pro-regime rhetoric, however these had a different aesthetic appearance (Figure 10).


Figure 10: The 2 pamphlets (above) were claimed to have been handed out by the military on 20 April 2021.


June 2021


In June, reports suggest that the military was still disseminating pamphlets containing pro-regime propaganda. However, the pamphlets appear to combine more graphic imagery with claims against pro-democracy or anti-military groups (Figure 11). The reports online indicate that these pamphlets were handed out at around 0800 on 25 June 2021 at Mulashidi checkpoint - located near the Mulashidi Bridge - in Puta-O (ပူတာအိုမြို့) Township, Kachin State (ကချင်ပြည်နယ်). The pamphlet in question contained emotive language and claims that CRPH, NUG, PDF and NLD are extremists carrying out terrorist attacks in order to undermine the state administration. The same post also details that members of the military council apparently raided Myitkyinaမြ (စ်ကြီးနားမြို့), Kachin State (ကချင်ပြည်နယ်) in March 2021 and that these pro-regime pamphlets were handed out around that area.


Figure 11: Graphic imagery paired with claims against the NLD, NUG, PDFs and CRPH.


Through analysing these examples of propaganda pamphlets which had been disseminated to the population, Myanmar Witness has identified a pattern. Pro-regime pamphlets were sometimes distributed in areas where there is more resistance to military rule and where the internet had been cut by the regime. Earlier in the year, areas like Yangon (ရန်ကုန်) which had experienced aggressive protest crackdowns in March, were targeted. Internet shutdowns occurred nationwide at this time.


NOVEMBER 2021 - JANUARY 2022


November 2021


In mid-to-late November 2021 there were reports on social media that the Myanmar military regime were distributing propaganda pamphlets using aircrafts in the Sagaing Region (စစ်ကိုင်းတိုင်းဒေသကြီ). This included the east villages in Kani Township (ကနီမြို့) (Figure 12) and Yinmarbin Township (ယင်းမာပင်ခရိုင်) (Figure 13).



Figure 12 (left) & Figure 13 (below right): Examples of pamphlets that begin appearing and being more heavily reported on by local news media in November.


An analysis of these pamphlets reveals the narrative that Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) and the National Unity Government (NUG) are supposedly funded by illegal drug trafficking. Pamphlets which were translated by Myanmar Witness contained a message prominently at the top of the leaflet, which reads “some of the EAO and NUG's efforts to increase drug use among young people are the biggest threats to the country's future”. The same leaflet goes on to state that “80% of those arrested for terrorists acts were found to be under the influence of drugs” (Figure 14 and 15).



Figure 14 (left) & Figure 15 (below): Pamphlets link EAO and the NUG to illicit drugs trade in Myanmar, posted on the 18th of November.








December 2021


At the start of December, The Irrawaddy claimed that propaganda pamphlets were airdropped in Mingin (မင်းကင်းမြို့), a town in the north-west Sagaing Region (စစ်ကိုင်းတိုင်းဒေသကြီ) of Myanmar. These pamphlets claim that the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), has been providing money and ammunition to support the killing of monks and insulting Buddhism.


A video posted on Youtube on 10 December 2021 claims to have captured footage from the 9 December 2021 demonstrating a military helicopter caught in Gangaw Township (ဂန့်ဂေါ ခရိုင်), Magway Region (မကွေးမြို့) – supposedly just after the dropping of pamphlets in this area. According to local sources, the military council troops flew this helicopter in the so-called ‘Yaw Region’ - an area with armed tension between local PDF members and the military. The helicopter is claimed to have dropped said pamphlets in Mauk Lin (မောက်လင်း) village at around 1400. There is no mention in this video of what these pamphlets contained, but social media reports from this day and the days following indicate a likelihood that these pamphlets are similar to those dropped in November. For example, on 15 December 2021, a Facebook page posted images of pamphlets resembling the ones posted in November. The facebook page does not clarify where these pamphlets were dropped; however the translation of the page name relates the page to Kani Township (ကနီမြို့), and the news coverage the page posts about centres in and around the Sagaing Region (စစ်ကိုင်းတိုင်းဒေသကြီ). Similarly, social media posts made on this day, such as one by Chindwin News Agency, claims that pamphlets were dropped in the Sagaing Region (စစ်ကိုင်းတိုင်းဒေသကြီ). These pamphlets are aesthetically similar to those seen on the ground in the post from the Facebook page: they both contain a rip at the edge of the pamphlet, on a slight curve putting into the first paragraph of a green panel with graphic imagery at the bottom (Figure 16). Thus, it could be possible that the pamphlets referenced by Chindwin News Agency are the same as those reported by the facebook page related to Kani Township (ကနီမြို့), and these pamphlets were dropped in Kani Township (ကနီမြို့).




Figure 16: Facebook page posts a picture of a pamphlet lying in the foliage with a tear.

Figure 17: A picture claimed to be an aircraft retreating after dropping pamphlets. Figure 18: An individual holds two pamphlets in hand.


Figure 19: White specks photographed in the air and claimed to be pamphlets being dropped by aircraft.


Claims on social media and by local news media suggest that these flyers were distributed throughout seven townships in the Sagaing Region (စစ်ကိုင်းတိုင်းဒေသကြီ), including Debayin (ဒီပဲယင်း), at around 1300 on 15 December 2021. This local news media agency claims that a lack of access to the internet prevented access to information regarding the claims within the pamphlets. Additionally, it references the misrepresentations of the PDFs - who are extremely active in these areas.


On 20 December 2021, Twitter users claimed that airdrops of pamphlets were happening from Taze to Kyun Hla (ကျွန်းလှ) Township, Kanbalu (ကန့်ဘလူ) district, in the Sagaing Region (စစ်ကိုင်းတိုင်းဒေသကြီ). Just a day later, on 21 December 2021, there were additional reports that aircrafts were again being used to drop off pamphlets in the southern villages of Myaing (မြိုင်မြို့), Magway. These claims cannot be verified due to the nature of the images of the pamphlets, but it is discernible that these pamphlets are all very similar aesthetically. Additionally, on 27 December 2021, Khit Thit Media posted images of the pamphlets and claimed they were being distributed by air in Kani Township (ကနီမြို့), Yinmarbin Township (ယင်းမာပင်ခရိုင်), Mingin Township (မင်းကင်းမြို့) and Kale Township (ကလေးမြို့) in Sagaing Region (စစ်ကိုင်းတိုင်းဒေသကြီ). The multiple reports, by various actors, seems to indicate the possibility that these pamphlets were coming from one unified source.


January 2022


Additional reports of similar airdropped propaganda surfaced at around 1030 on 9 January 2022 in Kamma Township (ကမ္မမြို့), Magway Region (မကွေးတိုင်းဒေသကြီး) (Figure 20). Locals were reported mocking these attempts by the military to sway the public with misleading narratives – for example, by asking whether aeroplane fuel is cheap. These flyers appear to be the same, if not very similar, to those from 2021. They employ the same rhetoric, suggesting that the PDFs and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) are terrorist groups causing issues in Myanmar. Additionally they threaten the destruction of cities and villages if the population continues to resist the SAC and, by extension, the military presence in these areas.


Figure 20: Pamphlets recorded in Kamma Township (ကမ္မမြို့) with the same images of Buddhist monks protesting OIC but on different panels.


On 10 January 2022, pamphlets were reportedly hand-distributed, however they were not in the same uniform aesthetic appearance as earlier pamphlets. In Hakha Hospital branch, the military were reported to be hand-distributing papers containing writing about elections which would be held in the next two years, echoing Min Aung Hlaing’s declaration six months into the military coup (Figure 21). Similarly to previous flyers, they reiterate claims that the KIA and Chin National Front (CNF) are killing citizens, and that the PDF and NLD are the root cause of issues in Myanmar. According to one Facebook page, these pamphlets are actually written in the Ha Chin language, and Hakha people can barely understand them due to this not being the predominantly spoken language of the area.


Figure 21: 3x aesthetically similar pamphlets in the Ha Chin language. They claim the CNF are responsible for the killing of citizens and include some graphic imagery.


Sowing Religious and Political Division


Language and Contents


Throughout this investigation, Myanmar Witness has analysed the language and messages embedded within the pamphlets. These fall mostly within the realm of misinformation or unverified information, and target the many different opposition groups in Myanmar - political groups, defence groups, and ethnic organisations.


Some of the pamphlets reported in November centred around the narrative that the EAOs and the NUG are funded by illegal drug trafficking. While this would not be the first time that EAOs have been linked to the illicit drug trade, implicating the NUG could serve to delegitimise their opposition to the military government.


In 2019, NPR reported that Jeremy Douglas - regional director for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Bangkok - believes the illicit drug trade in Myanmar is much bigger now than it was decades ago, when the area was better known for its opium and heroin production. In the post-coup context, making unevidenced claims linking the NUG to drug trafficking could represent an attempt to delegitimise opposition to the regime, discredit the pro-democracy party in the next set of elections (should they go ahead) and hold them responsible for the country’s lucrative narcotics industry.


Myanmar Witness translated a message at the top of one of the reported leaflets, it reads: “some of the EAO and NUG's efforts to increase drug use among young people are the biggest threats to the country's future”. The same leaflet continues to state that: “80% of those arrested for terrorists acts were found to be under the influence of drugs” (Figure 22 and 23). However, the Myanmar military government did not publish statistics on the consumption of drugs that can be used to support this claim. This pattern is also reflected by state-affiliated media, such as the GNLM, which often links protesters with drug use. This further supports the notion that these pamphlets were created and disseminated by state-affiliated organisations. As well as implicating EAOs and the NUG with the illicit drug market, these allegations appear to hold them responsible for acts of terror, and the ‘poisoning' of 'the minds’ of the youth.



Figure 22 & Figure 23: Pamphlets link EAO and the NUG to illicit drugs trade in Myanmar, posted on the 18th of November.


On 15 December 2021, The Chindwin News Agency detailed the contents of the pamphlets which had been reportedly distributed via airdrops. In these pamphlets, the CRPH, NUG and PDF are labelled as ‘terrorists’, and blamed for inciting violence. PDF members are reported to be the cause of the chaos and violence in the country - a result of their anti-regime rhetoric and actions. These accusations are occasionally accompanied by violent imagery that can be seen on these pamphlets: people injured and dead; people being arrested; and, phrases such as ‘အကြမ်းဖက်သောင်းကျန်းသူအဖွဲ့ ကချင်ပြည်နယ်မှ’, which translates as ‘terrorist insurgent group from Kachin State’.


These pamphlets also used shocking or graphic imagery alongside these messages. The pairing of these images with potentially biased information about pro-democracy or anti-regime groups, may serve multiple purposes, including delegitimising these groups, providing a warning to those who support them, or eliciting emotions - disgust, for example. For example, pamphlets reported by locals in the Democratic Voice of Burma on 15 December 2021, blame the PDF and other “insurgency” movements for villages being set on fire and schools being bombed. Brutal images are paired with the captions blaming PDFs. As pamphlets such as this one have been distributed during internet shutdowns which prevent the public from fact-checking information, this could lead the public to believe that violence is being committed by anti-regime groups. According to locals in this report, the reverse is true.


Additionally, these pamphlets are reported to contain thinly veiled threats towards those who might be involved with anti-regime groups. They threaten the public with the military’s notorious “four cuts'' strategy - the targeting of “every person and village” that the military deems to be connected to insurgent groups - in a bid to suppress resistance (Sydney Morning Herald, 2021). These act as warnings to villages, indicating that they will be destroyed should connections with anti-regime groups be identified.

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