Myanmar, a country besieged by war for decades, also known as Burma, shares a border with Bangladesh. Officially named the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, India is to its west and Thailand is to the east. The stunning coastline of the country spans a massive 1,930 km of uninterrupted beauty, with a population of 54 million, the atrocities that have taken place here beggar belief.
Tula Toli is a small, picturesque village located in the Maungdaw District of Rakhine State, Myanmar, near the Bangladesh–Myanmar border. Known also by locals as Min Gyi, this otherwise tranquil place was ravaged by war, in the form of an underreported massacre…
The Rohingyas are an Indo-Aryan-speaking people living in Rakhine State Myanmar. Recent estimates put these ancient people at a population of around one million, but that was before the massacres which took place as part of intentional ethnic cleansing by the loyal soldiers of the Burmese Army.
Due to the raging conflict, which saw hundreds of thousands of people caught in the crossfire, according to a UN report in 2017, 603,000 refugees crossed from Rakhine into neighboring Bangladesh. That number rose to 624,000 a month later and by December of the same year stood at 625,000…
Back in 2013, the UN classed the Rohingyas as one of the “most persecuted minorities in the world.” As an example of that persecution, the Rohingya population is denied citizenship under the 1982 Myanmar nationality law, which, “effectively deny to the Rohingya the possibility of acquiring a nationality,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Despite the indisputable historical fact that the Rohingya’s history dates back to the 8th century, they are not recognized under Myanmar law as one of the eight “national indigenous races.” Thier freedom of movement is also severely restricted, as their educational and civil rights…
Tula Toli Massacre
On 30th August 2017, Myanmar Army soldiers allegedly carried out a massacre of the Rohingyas, apparently backed up by local Rahkines who also resided in the village. Its said to have taken place during a Myanmar Army clearance operation in the village of Tula Toli.
Eyewitness allege that on that fateful day, Burmese soldiers carried out the massacre, brutally slaying at least 200 women and 300 children, as well as many more hundreds of men. Eyewitness accounts are backed up by disturbing satellite images showing Tula TOli completely destroyed, whilst Rakhine areas were left intact…
Reporting the Massacre
When two brave Reuters journalists went over to report on the massacre the last thing they assumed was that they would be facing prison time. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s cases moved to the trial stage recently after six months, having been charged under the Official Secrets Act. They are accused of obtaining secret state document.
Both the reporters have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, both potentially facing 14 in prison if convicted. They claim they followed “journalistic ethics,” although Wa Lone was defiant, speaking out against the police…
Wa Lone said to reporters, “Although we are charged, we are not guilty. We will not retreat, give up, or be shaken by this.” Having been detained since December of 2017, these two reporters are less than happy, and people in journalistic circles are outraged.
The two reporters were essentially trapped in a sting operation. They were arrested while investigating the execution of ten Rohingya men and boy in Inn Din village in northern Rakhine State. After meeting at a restaurant in Yangon with an undercover officer, they were promptly arrested and bundled into the back of a police van…
The U.S. Embassy in Yangon posted on their Facebook page that they were “deeply disappointed” by the court’s decision to prosecute the reporters. Reuters made sure to publish an in-depth report following their arrest about an alleged massacre back in April, whereby 7 Burmese soldiers were sentenced to jail.
Setback For Freedom
The Embassy’s social media post continued, “The Myanmar authorities should allow the journalists to return to their jobs and families. Today’s decision is a setback for press freedom and the rule of law in Myanmar.” That post went viral and garnered a lot of likes and shares from people across the world…
Meanwhile, Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s director of crisis response, said, “This is a black day for press freedom in Myanmar. The court’s decision to proceed with this farcical, politically motivated case has deeply troubling and far-reaching implications for independent journalism in the country.”
Another human right’s activist also spoke about the situation. Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, “The authorities have turned to tactics long-favored by past military juntas, locking up and prosecuting those exposing the truth.” But other people also spoke out…
Miscarriage of Justice
“Today’s decision renders the judiciary complicit in a farcical miscarriage of justice,” said Matthew Bugher, Head of Asia Programme for Article 19, in a statement, adding, “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo took great personal risks to cast light on events largely hidden from the public’s view.”
Bugher was outraged that these journalists were even arrested in the first place. “Instead of dragging them through preposterous legal proceedings, the government should commend the journalists for their indispensable role in promoting accountability,” he said.
A Profound Impact
One local human rights group, who champion free speech in the country, said that this type of open persecution is having a “profound impact” on the way journalists report news from the country, “Almost every journalist in Myanmar self-censors on anything relating to Rakhine [the province in which the persecuted Rohingya lived] because of this Reuters case,” said Free Expression Myanmar.
Hiding the Truth
The statement added that, “Prosecuting – and persecuting – two investigative journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for doing their job is a national shame intended only to stop any information coming out about what is really happening inside Myanmar’s many conflict areas.” Many people hope that international governments will bring pressure down on the authorities in Myanmar to try and ensure a free press for the future.