Buddhist Nationalists Threaten Myanmar Media Over Protest Coverage

Buddhist hard-liners in Myanmar threatened the media over their coverage of a pro-military rally in Yangon, demanding that at least two outlets remove reports from their websites about hate speech against State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and the religious affairs minister, the news organizations involved said.

About 1,000 nationalists demonstrated in the commercial capital formerly called Rangoon on Sunday to show their support for Myanmar’s powerful military.

Khit Thit Media and 7 Day News are among the media organizations that have received threats and been subjected to other forms of intimidation for covering the protest, said Tharlon Zaung Htet, editor of Khit Thit Media and a member of the government-sponsored Myanmar Press Council.

“The threats received by our news outlets are not just a threat to us, they are a threat to all the media and journalists,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“In observing their actions, I think they planned it carefully,” he added. “They came to the 7 Day News office and then went to Khit Thit.”

Myanmar National Organization, a civil group, organized the protest near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon, during which some Buddhist monks participating in the rally accused Religious Affairs Minister Thura Aung Ko of oppressing the country’s majority religion by favoring non-Buddhists.

They also accused Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration of proposing constitutional amendments that would reduce the political power of the military, which controls a quarter of the seats in parliament by appointment and wields a crucial veto over proposed charter amendments.

Some of the Buddhist monks who protested at the rally are known to have participated in the activities of Ma Ba Tha, a hard-line religious organization that authorities forcibly disbanded.

Other protesters carried banners saying “No Rohingya” in a reference to members of the ethnic minority group that Myanmar views as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, Reuters reported.

News report edits

Nyein Nyein Naing from 7 Day TV said broadcasters had to edit news reports about the protest that were webcast on Sunday.

“We have stated in the narration that some of the speakers at the event made speeches that could possibly incite religious riots, so they complained about our coverage,” he said.

“They actually gave hate speeches during the event,” he said. “We all heard it, but we have removed the part about the speeches possibly inciting religious riots.”

Some protesters published photos on social media stating that they had visited the media outlets to protest against the news reports.

But Kyauk Khae, a nationalist activist who participated in the protest, told RFA that demonstrators did not threaten the media.

Zayar Hlaing, secretary of the Media Ethics and Development Committee of the Myanmar Press Council, questioned the circumstances surrounding the reported threats.

“I’m wondering if they made threats by saying that the published reports were wrong or if the reporters made mistakes by writing something they didn’t actually say,” he said.

“But if they are issuing threats even though the news media didn’t make any mistake in their coverage, then all journalists need to respond in unity and with determination,” he added.

Growing tension

Tensions between the military and the government are increasing in the run-up to general elections in November and amid stiff opposition over proposed changes to the 2008 constitution that would weaken the political power of military officers appointed as lawmakers.

Bills submitted to parliament by a constitutional amendment committee in late January contain the proposed changes, including ones that would move oversight of the armed forces from the Defense Services Ministry to the elected president and gradually eliminate all military-appointed lawmakers.

Myanmar faces genocide charges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and in two other international courts over the military-led crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine state in 2017 that left thousands dead and forced more than 740,000 others to flee to Bangladesh.

The ICJ, the U.N.’s top court, ordered Myanmar in January to take measures to protect Rohingya living inside the country and to preserve evidence of atrocities committed during the 2017 crackdown.

Myanmar has denied that its military committed any atrocities, justifying the crackdown as a necessary counterinsurgency against Muslim militants who had conducted deadly attacks on police outposts.

Reported by Moe Myint and Phyu Phyu Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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