Myanmar abuses rights

Myanmar abuses rights

The Myanmar government in recent weeks and days has either lost the plot or lost control. There seems no possible third explanation. The two most egregious events have been a vicious and murderous military offensive in western Rakhine state and a media crackdown of a type not seen since the dreadful days of Slorc rule. Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has gone missing on the political front, while neighbours and friends are losing faith in her government.

The campaign against freedom of the press appears to be the direct work of Ms Suu Kyi's government. There has been growing tension between the government and a Myanmar media finding its way after decades of dictatorship. It flared to a head early this month when the Myanmar Times, clearly acting under instructions, fired journalist Fiona MacGregor. That is linked to the violence against Rohingya, to which we shall return.

Late last week, the government escalated the conflict. Two Myanmar journalists from the country's largest newspaper were imprisoned when a powerful Yangon politician accused them of defamation. Eleven Media Group CEO Than Htut Aung and the chief editor of the newspaper, Wai Phyo, are locked up for at least two weeks, no bail allowed. The charge centred on a Facebook post commenting on the newspaper's report alleging corruption.

The press crackdown is clearly meant as intimidation. Myanmar officials -- and this includes Ms Suu Kyi -- have never operated in an atmosphere of a free press. Military regimes ran the country and stomped on all media freedoms from 1962. Last year's elections were a sign that democratic rights would improve. But the firing of MacGregor and the arrests of the top newspaper executives are a bad sign, to say the least.

While both recent anti-media cases are troubling, the firing of MacGregor is probably the most sinister. She was dismissed after three years on the job, over a report of dozens of systematic rapes by security forces in Rakhine state. She was told her articles damaged the security forces. This is a terrible misrepresentation, since the reputation of the Rakhine state security forces, military and police, is that they murder, burn out villages and commit violent acts towards Rohingya Muslims.

The duty of any responsible government is to investigate charges such as those made by MacGregor. Up until today, no such investigation is under way. On the contrary, reports from the locked-down state last weekend were that the security forces have begun another round of attacks on villagers. The military itself said clashes last Saturday left six civilians and two soldiers dead.

The Rakhine violence against the Rohingya, including putting most of the state off-limits to outsiders, raises serious questions. Seasoned diplomats and analysts now are openly wondering if Ms Suu Kyi's government under her selected President Htin Kyaw even has control of the armed forces. Ms Suu Kyi is already under international disdain for her refusal to protect the rights of the Rohingya.

More unfortunately, the assault on the media and the current round of physical intimidation are happening directly on her watch. It is a shame her reputation is plummeting among both the brave reporters and editors of Myanmar, as well as the international media who lionised her pro-democracy stance against brutal dictators.

One must hope she will quickly reverse course. Without freedom of the press, Myanmar has no real freedom at all. Instead of attacking investigative journalists, Ms Suu Kyi's government should be thanking them for providing leads to misconduct.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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