Myanmar journalists 'harassed' for reporting on Rohingya crisis

Refusing to accept the government line has left some local reporters fearing for their lives.

    Sitting in a Yangon cafe, Min Min scrolls through old photos of a bombing attack on his house in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state.

    The 28-year-old journalist told Al Jazeera that he was targeted last year due to his reporting of the Rohingya crisis.

    It is a risky business, he said.

    "If I keep trying to investigate the truth about issues in Rakhine state, my life could be in danger," Min, the editor of the Rakhine Investigative Agency, said.

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    The young journalist revealed that his monthly political magazine had to reduce its coverage of the mainly-Muslim minority group during the recent incidents in the western town of Maungdaw.

    "We had to be silent, we almost don't cover it because we have to be very careful," Min said.

    Since August 25, the Myanmar army has waged a brutal military campaign in Rakhine against the Rohingya, who have been denied citizenship and basic rights by the Myanmar government.

    More than 500,000 Rohingya have fled the country, most arriving in Bangladesh by foot or by boat, with aid agencies struggling to cope with the influx.

    The UN has denounced the situation as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".

    'You feel cramped'

    Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her government have criticised international media coverage of the crisis and the UN workers documenting the Rohingya plight, dismissing their reports as fake news.

    "Dismissal and denial of well-documented accusations, allegations and evidence is part of genocide," Maung Zarni, a Burmese human rights activists, told Al Jazeera's The Listening Post.

    "Dismissing the reports of hundreds of women who have been wronged and violated and Suu Kyi dismissing them as fake news, fake rape. That was what you read on Aung San Suu Kyi's official Facebook page: fake rape," he added.  

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    Al Jazeera has spoken to half a dozen journalists from Myanmar who say they are facing some form of harassment, even death threats, for not toeing the government line on the Rohingya issue.

    Local journalists say the censorship and harassment are affecting their jobs. 

    "You feel more cramped, you feel trapped, when you're writing the news before it's published," said one Myanmar journalist.

    He does not want to reveal his identity because he fears further public backlash.

    "You have this fear what would be the public response, will they be swearing at me again online. This is directly affecting the journalists' work," the reporter added. 

    'Dreadful PR machine'

    Al Jazeera's Yaara Bou Melhem, reporting from Yangon, said the pro-government narrative is evident in the daily newspaper headlines.

    One was about authorities saying they will continue to fight what they call "Islamic terrorism" in Rakhine state, she reported.

    The government has classified the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which launched attacks on hundreds of police posts and an army base in August, a "terrorist group".  

    Government social media accounts also say that Rohingya are burning their homes. 

    A UN report recently cited the burning of Rohingya homes by Myanmar's military as part of campaign to expel and prevent the return of Rohingya to Myanmar, an allegation the government has rejected as false. 

    "These kind of attacks are not happening," Wyn Myat Aye, minister for social welfare and resettlement, said.

    "These accusations are spreading throughout the world even though there has been no attack after September 5 and this is due to the media's role. This is the very bad performance of the media. I can say that the media is bullying us."

    Meanwhile, analysts have criticised the government's role in pushing its agenda.

    "The government PR machine on this entire issue has been absolutely dreadful," Davis Mathieson, an independent Myanmar analyst, told Al Jazeera. 

    "It's been something almost Orwellian, dystopian and incredibly cheap and nasty." 

    The Rakhine Investigative Agency's Min Min worries not just for his country's future, but for his magazine.

    He said two of his six-member staff quit this month because he would not let them use the words "Bengali terrorist" in their reports.

    He remains afraid of what else he could lose if he continues to search for the truth in Myanmar.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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