The Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar is facing the deadliest violence in decades. The state-sanctioned genocide in the Buddhist-majority Rakhine state has forced some 379,000 civilians to flee to Bangladesh in the last couple of weeks alone.
The humanitarian crisis, often categorized as ethnic cleansing, has cost hundreds of innocent lives. The minority community’s houses are being burnt to the ground and their crops destroyed. Not only are their men, women and children being slaughtered and shot at indiscriminately, scores of Rohingya have died trying to enter the neighboring country as their makeshift boats continue to capsize.
Amid all the brutality and bloodshed, Myanmar’s de-facto leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has remained deafeningly silent, refusing to address the mounting atrocities, while the country’s government is blaming the Rohingya for inciting violence.
In fact, taking a page right out of President Donald Trump’s book, the authorities, along with the local monks and officials, have resorted to call the stories of unimaginable cruelty in Rakhine “fake news.” However, their latest efforts to defame the victims backfired rather spectacularly.
Recently, quite a few images surfaced showing a group of villagers supposedly setting fire to their own homes. The photos, which showed the faces of the perpetrators a bit too clearly to be honest, were then used by the Myanmar government and other anti-Rohingya supporters to propagate that the Rohingya were themselves burning down their homes and blaming it on the military forces.
“I even tried to stop them,” Zawtika, an abbot of a nearby Buddhist monastery who claimed he witnessed the arson, told reporters. “I told them not to do that, but it seemed like they wanted to.”
He said he identified the villagers as the Muslims, but as it later turned out, they were not Muslim at all.
Another local Buddhist resident Maung Maung Htwe also shared several photos, showing people torching the thatched roof of one home. He said he took those photos on his phone and suggested the culprits were Rohingya — or Bengalis, as most Burmese call them, even though they have lived in Myanmar for generations.
The images soon went viral.
However, as it turned out, two reporters covering the explosion of communal violence in Rakhine state identified the arsonists as the displaced Hindus staying at a nearby public school. In fact, an Associated Press reporter had even interviewed one of them.
Although it is unclear when these pictures were taken, one of them showed a machete-wielding woman in an orange-and-white shirt with her head covered with what looked like a tablecloth instead of the usual Muslim headwear. Another showed a man in a green-and-blue plaid shirt.
Ironically, the pictures taken earlier at the temporary shelter for displaced Hindus showed the same man and woman wearing the same clothes.
The only thing that suggests these people are Muslims are the white prayer hats then men wear, and the headscarves. BUT...— Jerome Taylor (@JeromeTaylor) September 7, 2017
We can't see the faces of the "women", but those headscarves do not look like the kind of scarves usually worn by Rohingya women— Jerome Taylor (@JeromeTaylor) September 7, 2017
2 Hindus who dressed as Muslims in fake house-burning photos were also presented to us as victims to film n Maungdaw https://t.co/CTB235MLol— Jonathan Head (@pakhead) September 10, 2017
And the evidence continued to surface, contradicting both the local monks and the authorities.
Meanwhile, the government of Myanmar is apparently investigating the matter.
Thumbnail/Banner: Reuters, Stringer