Japanese Daily Hit in Complaint by Myanmar’s Military Over Interview With Top General

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Myanmar Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing (R) is interviewed by Ruta Sometaya (L), the Yangon bureau chief for Japan's Asahi Shimbun, in Naypyidaw, Feb. 14, 2019.
Myanmar Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing (R) is interviewed by Ruta Sometaya (L), the Yangon bureau chief for Japan's Asahi Shimbun, in Naypyidaw, Feb. 14, 2019.
Photo courtesy of Myanmar Commander-in-Chief's Office

Myanmar’s military has filed a complaint with the country’s press council against a respected Japanese daily newspaper for publishing an interview with the Southeast Asian nation's commander-in-chief without allowing him to read the text and approve it in advance, those involved in the matter said Friday.

The office of armed forces chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called on the Myanmar Press Council (MPC), which received the notice earlier this week, to mediate the complaint that The Asahi Shimbun breached the country’s Media Law by failing to adhere to media ethics.

When the newspaper’s Yangon bureau chief Ruta Sometaya interviewed the military chief on Feb. 14 in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, The Asahi Shimbun promised to show the draft to Min Aung Hlaing before publishing it to prevent mistakes and misunderstandings, but did not do so, the complaint said.

An article based on the interview was published in the newspaper on Feb. 15, though the publication did not print Min Aung Hlaing’s exact responses, according to a report by Eleven Myanmar media group.

“We will work on it [the complaint] according to the [media] law and bylaws,” MPC secretary said Kyaw Zaw Min. “As we need references, we have asked the complainant for them. We have asked both sides to meet on March 1 to talk.”

Thitsar, secretary of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Myanmar, said his organization could not comment specifically on the matter because it did not know what the parties had agreed to.

“We haven’t heard of this kind of problem before,” he said.

“If the newspaper published the interview as army chief said, it is OK,” he said. “But if it didn’t publish it as he said, then it infringes upon journalism ethics. It seems we have to submit our news before we publish it.”

The newspaper was not immediately available to comment on the case or whether it had agreed to the military’s demand to preview the article.

Myanmar military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said, “I don’t know the details about it, but I know that The Asahi Shimbun newspaper has sent an apology letter to the army chief.”

‘Criticism without proof’

During the interview, Min Aung Hlaing was asked about the military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state during which soldiers committed widespread atrocities against members of the persecuted minority group, prompting more than 730,000 to flee to safety in neighboring Bangladesh.

The Myanmar government has denied its troops were responsible for atrocities, despite extensive reports and evidence to the contrary that have led the United Nations, rights groups, and other nations to say the campaign amounted to ethnic cleansing, genocidal intent, or genocide itself.

But in the article by The Asahi Shimbun, Min Aung Hlaing doubted U.N. estimates that some 730,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh and contended that the refugees were told what to say about the accounts of human rights abuses by his forces.

“Criticism without any certain proof hurts the nation’s dignity,” Min Aung Hlaing was quoted as saying in the article published in The Asahi Shimbun.

An extensive report issued in September by United Nations investigators detailed the violence by Myanmar security forces and called for the prosecution of Min Aung Hlaing and other top military commanders on genocide charges at the International Criminal Court or by another criminal tribunal.

But Min Aung Hlaing said Myanmar doesn’t need to follow what the ICC says because it is not a party to the Rome Statute, which created the international tribunal.

“We will not accept any instructions that threaten Myanmar's sovereignty,” he was quoted as saying in the article.

Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.





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