Reuters just published an explosive investigative report detailing a massacre last September of Rohingya Muslims in Burma's restive Rakhine state, following the arrest and imprisonment of two of the news agency's journalists who investigated the story.
The reporters are charged with violating an arcane and rarely invoked law known as the Official Secrets Act, which dates from colonial British rule. They have yet to face trial, but Burmese authorities say the information they gathered and has now been made public, was “illegally acquired with the intention to share it with foreign media.”
The news agency claims the journalists uncovered evidence, including photos, that police ordered villagers to assist in the killing, dismemberment and burial of 10 Rohingya Muslims — eight men and two teenage boys — in a mass grave. The police's official account says the men attacked them, but the Reuters's reporting contradicts that claim.
“One grave for 10 people,” said a retired soldier who told Reuters he helped dig the pit and witnessed the killings. “When they were being buried, some were still making noises. Others were already dead.”
The report details the days leading up to the massacre as military operations destroy communities of Rohingya in Inn Din, the fishing village where the events occurred, and draws on Buddhist and Muslim witnesses who recount the military commanders' orders to “go and clear” inhabited by Rohingyas.
Tensions have been flaring for years, and many observers believe that the central government is now waging a clear ethnic cleansing campaign and is guilty of genocide. The Burmese government contends the Rohingya are essentially squatters, although the two communities have lived side by side for centuries.
While the Buddhist majority controls the country's military and security and is far better equipped than the minority Muslims, Rohingya are subject to persecution.
“If they have a place to live, if they have food to eat, they can carry out more attacks,” one of the local policeman who took part in the operation said. “That’s why we burned their houses, mainly for security reasons.”
Since August 2017, an estimated 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Burma, also called Myanmar, following the intense military crackdown by the Buddhist run government against the Muslim minority. The reporting from Reuters sheds new light on the conflict and possible crimes against humanity.
“These two journalists are paying for their professionalism. Their only crime was to take an interest in the atrocities by Myanmar’s security forces against the country’s Rohingya minority, which resulted in an exodus of around 700,000 refugees,” Daniel Bastard, head of Reporters Without Borders' Asia-Pacific desk, told The Washington Post via email. “The refusal to grant bail clearly shows that the judicial system is being used to punish these two reporters and to intimidate their media colleagues.”
Reuters says the reporters supported the decision to publish the report.
“We thought it was really important to publish for three reasons. We felt the world needed to see this story. Our reporters in prison were fully supportive of the decision. And this is what we do,” Stephen J. Adler, editor in chief of Reuters, told The Post. “Journalism is increasingly risky work, and it is part of our broader belief to publish important news. We thought it was time to go with it.”