Reuters says Myanmar held journalists for probing Rohingya massacre

Detained Myanmar journalist Kyaw Soe Oo, left, is escorted by police to a court in Yangon to face trial on February 6. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2018
0

Reuters says Myanmar held journalists for probing Rohingya massacre

BANGKOK: Two Reuters journalists detained for two months by Myanmar authorities were arrested over their investigation of a massacre of 10 Rohingya men, the news agency said in a report that detailed the grisly killings.
It is the first time Reuters has publicly confirmed what Myanmar nationals Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were working on when they were arrested on December 12 on the outskirts of Yangon.
The pair are now facing up to 14 years in prison on charges of possessing classified documents in violation of the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
Their plight has sparked global alarm over withering press freedoms in Myanmar and government efforts to curb reporting in northern Rakhine state — a crisis-hit region where troops are accused of waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims.
Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled the area since last August, carrying stories of atrocities at the hands of troops and vigilante groups in the Buddhist-majority country.
Myanmar authorities deny the allegations but have virtually cut off northern Rakhine, barring independent media from accessing the conflict-hit areas.
On Thursday Reuters published a report describing how Myanmar troops and Buddhist villagers executed 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine’s Inn Dinn village on September 2, 2017 before dumping their bodies into a mass grave.
“The Reuters investigation of the Inn Din massacre was what prompted Myanmar police authorities to arrest two of the news agency’s reporters,” the report said.
The account was based on testimony from Buddhist villagers, security officers and relatives of the slain men.
It included graphic photographs of the victims, hands bound kneeling on the floor before the killing — and of their bodies in a pit after.
A month after the journalists’ arrests, Myanmar’s army issued a rare statement admitting that security forces took part in extrajudicial killings of 10 Rohingya “terrorists” in Inn Din village.
The Reuters report said witnesses denied there had been any major attack from Rohingya militants before the alleged massacre.
A Myanmar government spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.
But Myanmar vehemently denies systematic abuses by its security officers, despite a mounting volume of evidence pointing to atrocities.
Judges have denied bail to the two reporters during a pre-trial hearing period, despite calls for their release from human rights groups and diplomats around the globe.
The next hearing is scheduled for February 14.


Social media aids Sudan opposition to spread protests

Updated 17 January 2019
0

Social media aids Sudan opposition to spread protests

  • Activists have actively documented the confrontations and flooded social media with footage which they claim is “exposing” Bashir’s government
  • Other hashtags such as #SudanRevolts and #SudanUprising have also helped build momentum, amassing hundreds of tweets and retweets by the hour

CAIRO: Despite a long-standing crackdown on dissent in Sudan, opponents of President Omar Al-Bashir have found a voice online, using social media to fuel nationwide protests and share images of security forces using violence to suppress them.
The protests in Sudan began peacefully on December 19 to demonstrate against the tripling of the price of bread.
But they have evolved into deadly confrontations between demonstrators and security forces, and triggered calls for the downfall of the country’s veteran ruler.
“Social media is crucial for the movement,” said one 24-year-old activist, speaking with AFP in Cairo over WhatsApp. AFP has withheld his name for safety reasons.
For the past four weeks, activists have actively documented the confrontations and flooded social media with footage which they claim is “exposing” Bashir’s government.
The main cities of the northeast African nation, including the capital Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman, have all been rocked by what is now widely seen as the biggest threat to Bashir in his three decades of iron-fisted rule.
The 24-year-old protester said he only finds out about demonstrations through online announcements and maintained that anger at the “horrible” videos of deadly confrontations was driving more people out onto the streets.
One video purportedly showed a security vehicle chasing protesters to run them over, while gunshots were heard in the background.
Another clip showed people rushing to try to remove the blood-covered body of a protester hit by gunfire. Both have been viewed hundreds of times online.
Authorities say at least 24 people have died in the clashes, but rights groups including Amnesty International have put the death toll at 40 and say more than 1,000 people have been arrested.
On Friday during prayers at a mosque, irate crowds appeared in a video calling on an imam to lead protests against Bashir.
None of the footage could be independently verified by AFP.
Users have also shared multiple images of what appears to be security personnel beating up protesters with batons.
“We are people who don’t accept injustice. And what happened to protesters, whether it was tear gas or live bullets fired at them, is clear injustice,” said another social media activist based in Khartoum, who also spoke to AFP in Cairo and declined to be named fearing reprisals.
“Protests where violations occur are usually followed by larger ones,” the 25-year-old added.
The demonstrations have been spearheaded by the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) which regularly issues online announcements of upcoming rallies, with the hashtags #Sudan_cities_uprise or #Just_Fall.
Other hashtags such as #SudanRevolts and #SudanUprising have also helped build momentum, amassing hundreds of tweets and retweets by the hour.
Thanks to social media “the uprisings in the regional cities have been noticed a lot more quickly,” said Willow Berridge, a lecturer at Newcastle University in northern England.
And that “has had an impact on what is happening in Khartoum a lot more quickly because of the changing nature of technology and social media.”
With the protests showing no signs of abating, the Sudanese government has sought to curtail the use of social networks, activists and analysts said.
Internet users have reported difficulties accessing platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp since the early days of the protests.
It is not an unusual tactic by autocratic governments.
In the turbulent days of Egypt’s 2011 uprising against long-serving ruler Hosni Mubarak, the government blocked communications and cut off nearly all Internet traffic.
Such experiences prompted Sudanese activists to immediately look for alternatives for online access, including the use of virtual private network (VPN) services to bypass controls.
“Shutting down access to online platforms has proved a farce,” said Magdi El Gizouli, a Sudan analyst with the Rift Valley Institute.
“Almost immediately, the bulk of Sudanese Internet users were online through VPN,” he added.
And activists saw the Sudanese government’s heavy-handed move as virtually ineffective.
“It gave people an indication that the government is scared,” said the 25-year-old activist.
“This only strengthened the spirit of revolt in people, as it showed that we are on the right track.”
The 24-year-old also believes the restrictions on online media are “pointless” and have “little to no impact over the demonstrations.”
The government has in past years already moved to curtail online and print media.
And Sudan already has ranked 174 out of 180 on the World Press Freedom index for consecutive years from 2015 to 2018.
In 2018, the country introduced a cybercrime law and amendments to the media law that rights groups see as aiming to tighten online restrictions.
According to a November report by the US-based think tank Freedom House, at least one person has been jailed “for critical commentary shared on social media” in Sudan, and authorities have arrested “numerous journalists and activists for alleged cybercrime.”
But Gizouli says the government’s attempts to crush online dissent have been “to no avail.”
“In many ways, these measures have only reinforced public anger at the government’s securitization of the Internet,” he said.