The Myanmar government on Tuesday said “fabricated” media stories and photos with incorrect captions about the treatment of minority Rohingya Muslims have caused global criticism of the Buddhist-majority country by the international community.
The government blamed propagandists for posting phony stories and photos of abuse that occurred in other countries or during previous communal violence in Rakhine, after the Oct. 9 attacks on three border guard posts in the northern townships of Maungdaw and Rathedaung near the Bangladesh border.
The Rohingya accuse the security forces that swept the area during a search for the attackers of committing atrocities against them and forcing them from their homes across the border. Human rights groups have published satellite photos showing burned villages and interviewed some of the tens of thousands of displaced refugees in next-door Bangladesh about raids.
The government has denied the allegations.
Propagandists posted fake news and described events that had happened in other places as ones that had occurred in Myanmar after the Oct. 9 attacks in Maungdaw, northern Rakhine State, said a press release issued on Monday by the State Counselor’s Office.
“Such intentionally fabricated news and photos were sent to international media, international human rights organizations, and governments in an attempt to cause misunderstandings about Myanmar,” it said.
Several videos and photos have emerged during the crackdown, purportedly showing security forces abusing Rohingya.
One photo that claims to show the bodies of Muslims slain by Rakhine Buddhists is actually one of Buddhist monks preparing to incinerate the bodies of victims of an earthquake in Tibet in 2010, according to the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar.
Another photo said to show rows of Muslim corpses burned by Rakhine Buddhists is actually dead bodies burned in a fuel tanker fire in the Congo in 2010, the newspaper said.
Earlier last December, the Myanmar government said it would take legal action against a British tabloid that published a fabricated report and false images allegedly showing an army soldier torturing a naked Rohingya child with a stun gun in Rakhine state.
In a rare move on Monday, however, Myanmar said it would take action against four policemen for participating in a video shot by another officer that shows them beating Rohingya residents during security operations in early November in Kotankauk village. The video was posted on Facebook.
"Those who [were] initially identified were detained," the State Counselor’s Office said in a statement. "Further investigations are being carried out to expose other police officers who beat villagers in the operation."
President’s Office spokesman Zaw Htay said the government intends to punish two policemen who took the video and who kicked a villager, and will release news about it.
“Some others were detained as well,” he said. “They have to perform their duty according to the law.”
The government has ordered every level of police not to violate human rights, he said.
“The government has time and again stressed the need to be careful with each and every action to make sure there is no violation of human rights and to act in line with the law,” Zaw Htay said.
Meanwhile, a fourth villager was found dead in Muslim-majority Maungdaw, the office said Tuesday, the latest local resident who appears to have been murdered in the last two weeks.
Swedu Armi, 30, disappeared after he went fishing on Dec. 28. His family found his body on Monday with injuries to his throat.
The other three Muslim men killed worked as local administrators in the area and suffered knife wounds. One was decapitated and found in a river.
Local officials have speculated that they were killed by other Muslims for cooperating with security forces that have had the area under lockdown since the border guard state attacks.
U.N. rapporteur’s visit
In a related development, Yanghee Lee, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, is planning to arrive in Rakhine state around Jan. 8 for a three-day visit some of the villages affected by violence in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships.
Lee has been critical of the government’s lack of improvement in its human rights treatment of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya, who are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denied the right to citizenship and access to social services.
“This visit is her [Lee’s] regular visit,” said Aye Win, the U.N.’s information official in Myanmar. “She visits Myanmar two times a year.”
“She will be in Myanmar for the report during the U.N. Human Rights Council conference that will be held in March,” he said.
Lee has completed four missions to Myanmar since she was appointed as U.N. envoy to the country in 2014.
During her previous visit, she traveled to Rakhine, Shan, and Kachin states for two weeks in late last June and early July.
She met with Muslim and Buddhist residents of religious and ethnically divided Rakhine in the capital Sittwe.
Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.