ARTICLE 19 is concerned by the ongoing crackdown against victims of sexual violence speaking out on abuses in Rakhine State, as well as government pressure against media houses and journalists reporting on allegations of human rights violations by the Myanmar military.
“Over the past two weeks we have seen a concerted effort to repress media coverage of sexual violence against minority women in Rakhine State, allegedly carried out by the military, and worse still, censure of both journalists and those women that have spoken out,” said Thomas Hughes, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.
“Women in Myanmar are already marginalised, particularly those from ethnic and religious minorities, and it takes huge courage for them to speak out on culturally sensitive issues such as sexual violence, particularly in conflict zones,” he added.
“Faced with such disturbing allegations, a democratic government should have immediately launched an independent investigation to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. Instead, the government has banned the media from visiting the area, women who have spoken out have been subject to derogatory comments by public officials, and journalists and their editors have been sacked under government pressure. This sends a worrying message to women across Myanmar” he added.
A journalist and an editor at the daily newspaper The Myanmar Times have both been sacked for supposedly bringing the newspaper into disrepute and undermining national unity. Their sacking came after the Information Ministry contacted the newspaper to lodge a complaint regarding an article published on 27 October alleging sexual violence and human rights violations by the military in Rakhine State. The article reported on allegations that dozens of local minority women had been raped by security services. The Ministry’s complaint came shortly after the presidential spokesperson criticised the journalist on Facebook. Only journalists from the state-run media have been officially allowed to visit the area in Rakhine State where the rapes allegedly took place. As such, reporters from the The Myanmar Times and other international media houses such as Reuters have reverted to covert investigations.
Women victims speaking out on the alleged abuses have also been censured. Myanmar’s state newspapers have said that the women and journalists reporting on their claims are making false allegations, a claim that has been re-published by the president’s office. A parliamentarian for Rakhine State and Chairperson of the Rakhine Investigative Committee laughed when faced with the allegations, and told the BBC they could not be true on the basis of degrading and demeaning statements about the minority women.
Sacked Myanmar Times investigative journalist Fiona MacGregor, who has previously covered ARTICLE 19’s work on gender-based censorship in Myanmar, is known for her reporting on sexual violence in the country. Her article stated in the opening sentence that allegations of sexual violence were unable to be verified due to the government denying journalists access to the area.
On 13 November, Myanmar Times editor and employee of 13 years Douglas Long was also sacked. Myanmar Times staff have been told since MacGregor’s sacking that the management is developing a new ‘editorial policy’ and until that has been decided, no further news on the daily violence in Rakhine State will be published. In response The Myanmar Times has been running an ad warning its readers of the blackout:
ARTICLE 19 calls for a full investigation into allegations of sexual violence against women in Rakhine State and the censure of journalists reporting on these in order to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice, and calls on the government to ensure their protection from further attacks.
ARTICLE 19 urges the Myanmar government to reverse its decision to block media access to conflict zones in Rakhine State, and reiterates to government officials at all levels the important role of a free and independent media in the democratic transition process, in particular in highlighting and bringing accountability for human rights violations and rampant corruption.