Myanmar election app goes offline, has been criticized over label for Rohingya

A man wearing a protective face mask walks on the street amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, in Yangon, Myanmar, October 2, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 02 October 2020

Myanmar election app goes offline, has been criticized over label for Rohingya

  • The mVoter2020 app labels at least two candidates belonging to the Rohingya ethnic group as “Bengali”
  • The term implies they are immigrants from Bangladesh and is rejected by many Rohingya

YANGON: A smartphone app produced for Myanmar’s Nov. 8 election with help from international organizations appears to have been removed from circulation and may be amended after criticism over its use of a label for Rohingya Muslims that the Rohingya view as derogatory.
The mVoter2020 app, launched on Tuesday and aimed at improving voter awareness, labels at least two candidates belonging to the Rohingya ethnic group as “Bengali”, a term that implies they are immigrants from Bangladesh and is rejected by many Rohingya.
The app was not available to download for mobile and a web version was inaccessible on Friday, bringing up an error message that read “Server is temporarily closed.”
Marcus Brand, the country director of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), which is based in Stockholm and helped develop the app, said he understood it had been removed while discussions were ongoing but did not have further details.
Brand said the group was advising the removal of contentious words used to identify candidates’ ethnic background.
“We are advocating the electoral authorities to remove this information from the app in order to ensure candidate security and… increase the integrity of the process,” he told Reuters, adding he hoped the app would go back online soon.
The app was developed by Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC), with support from STEP Democracy, a European Union-funded project implemented in Myanmar by International IDEA, and the US-based Asia Foundation.
Pierre Michel, public diplomacy adviser to the EU’s Myanmar mission, told Reuters the EU “should have been warned about the inclusion of discriminatory data” in the app and was “considering all options” as to how to respond.
The UEC and Asia Foundation did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
Brand said International IDEA’s role was to digitize candidate registration forms for a database and that it did not have “technical nor editorial control” over the app’s content. The UEC requires applicants to submit citizenship documents that classify them by their race and religion.
“We do not generally think that advertising the ethnic and religious identification of candidates is advisable in the Myanmar context,” Brand said.
Activist group Justice for Myanmar said in a statement on Wednesday that the app risked “inflaming ethnic and religious nationalism during the election”.
Aye Win, one of the Rohingya candidates, told Reuters he was informed by the UEC on Friday that he was being disqualified, although it was not clear if this was related to the app.


UK sees rise in Islamist extremist cases referred to counter radicalization program

Updated 3 min 16 sec ago

UK sees rise in Islamist extremist cases referred to counter radicalization program

  • Cases involving Islamist extremism increase for first time in four years
  • Program aims to spot people who could go on to commit terrorist acts

LONDON: The number of people referred to the UK government’s counter extremism program has jumped amid concerns over increased radicalization among young people.
Cases involving Islamist extremism increased by 6 percent from 1,404 to 1,487. The numbers, which represent individuals of concern referred to the Prevent scheme between April 2019 and March 2020, mark the first year-on-year increase for Islamist cases since 2016.
While far-right cases remained steady compared to the previous year at 1,388, overall the number of people referred to the program rose 10 percent.
The rise in Islamist cases comes after a recent surge of attacks across Europe. Last month a school teacher was beheaded by an extremist after he had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a freedom of speech discussion. Days later, three people were killed in a terrorist attack at a church in Nice.
In the UK, three people were killed in a knife attack on London Bridge almost a year ago.
The UK’s Prevent program is part of its wider counter-terrorism strategy and aims to safeguard people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.
The most serious cases are referred to a panel known as “Channel,” which then decides what further action to take. Of the 697 cases that reached the panel, most were related to the far-right (302), while 210 were linked to Islamist extremism. 
More than half of all referrals were aged under 20.
Security Minister James Brokenshire said the Prevent strategy was an essential strand to the UK’s counter-terror strategy.
“It is about supporting vulnerable individuals, steering them away from terrorism, and protecting our communities,” he told the Royal United Services Institute on Thursday.
Last week the head of counter-terror policing in the UK, Neil Basu, said that while Islamist terrorists remained the greatest threat to Britain, the far right is growing faster.
He said COVID-19 had created a “perfect storm” with young and vulnerable people spending more time alone and online.