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

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.

John Simpson: ‘I’m on the side of the memories, not of people trying to stop them’

Updated 21 May 2018

John Simpson: ‘I’m on the side of the memories, not of people trying to stop them’

LONDON: John Simpson began working for the BBC as a reporter in 1970, and has risen to become one of the UK’s most respected and best- known war and diplomatic correspondents.
In addition to interviewing many of the most world’s most prominent leaders, he is known for his reporting from 47 conflict zones including Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.
In an recent interview he discussed what it feels like to come close to death, his favorite interview subjects, and his advice for young journalists starting their careers.

How do you feel about being seen as one of the UK’s most prominent war correspondents?
I don’t regard myself as a war reporter. I am really more of a diplomatic correspondent who strays into wars. I have covered around 47 wars all together, but it is not how I see myself. I see myself as somebody who is really interested in politics. Of course, wars are a nasty form of politics, so that is really why I have strayed into that.

How many times have you been close to death?
In 2016, by pure chance, I had kidney failure and was lucky to survive. That was the tenth time. I know very well now what it feels like to be on the point of death and I have to say, it is not that disturbing.
It’s far worse (when members of my crew have died). When my translator was killed in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq, I could not see any reason to be still alive while he was dead. He was standing quite close to me and he had his legs cut off by a piece of shrapnel, and I just had a piece of shrapnel in my leg. It just seemed to me to be unfair that he died and I lived.

You say journalism is more of a calling than a profession. Why did you become a journalist?
When I was about 15, I read George Orwell’s “1984” and it was wonderful. That idea that you could destroy the reality of the past by destroying documents, newspapers and memories was such a concept to me. So I thought, whatever I do, I will be on the side of the memories, not on the side of people trying to stop them. I still think that if you can get things out on the public record that is what counts.

You mention in your book that the kindest person you interviewed was Nelson Mandela. What was it like to interview him?
He was the greatest person I ever interviewed. You really could ask him anything and he would not have been offended by it. I asked him about corruption in South Africa for instance and he just talked through it. He was so honest and accepted that some of his ministers were corrupt. That is something you do not often see.
I have interviewed various Arab leaders over the years, among them Bashar Assad (in 2006). At that stage he seemed to me to be more like a north London ophthalmologist than a Syrian president. I asked him quite a lot of difficult questions and he answered them all.
Now if you interviewed Assad you would sadly be talking about the most appalling violations of the rules of war and some of the worst examples of attacks on civilians in modern history, and he is responsible. He carries the burden of guilt for that.

Which other interviews with Arab leaders resonated with you?
I interviewed Muammar Qaddafi several times, and I thought that he was probably insane. I have never to this day quite been able to understand how he managed to survive (for so long) because he was really off the wall and a very nasty character.
I also interviewed the late king of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz. He was very charming, and very sharp. He was absolutely delightful, and walking away from the interview I felt much better to having met this person. Not many politicians give you that feeling. He was a very thoughtful man.

What did you think of Khomeini when you interviewed him?
He was absolutely firmly lodged in the past. All his concerns were related to the Shah’s father and to the Shah himself and to the role the Western countries played in helping the Shah. He was also concerned about fighting Saddam Hussein, and I do not think there was anything more in his life except that.

What makes you so active on Twitter and online platforms?
I rather enjoy Twitter (but) am still not very good at Facebook. The technology is terribly important, particularly in television, and you have to keep up. When you get to my age its quite easy to stop, but I feel the need to keep on pushing myself.

What is the most essential advice you can give young journalists?
We are living in a different kind of world, where newspapers and television and radio news are much less popular than they were. People do not want to know about things. They want to be in their little echo chamber where they just hear the views that they like to hear, which is disturbing.
I feel that young journalists in particular have to be aware of that and have to fight against it. It is the death of real journalism if we just simply write and broadcast about things that will please people.
You have to challenge the other person’s views of things, and keep on forcing it through. You do not get rich by being a journalist, and you should not ever want to. You absolutely have to be true to the kind of voice inside you and not be somebody else’s employee.

Originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat. Image licence here. It was reviewed on 24 April 2015 by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.