Burmese President Warns Media After Mandalay Riots

Burmese President Thein Sein delivers a monthly radio address. (Photo: The President’s Office)

Burmese President Thein Sein delivers a monthly radio address. (Photo: The President’s Office)

Burma’s president has vowed to take action against instigators of last week’s religious riots in Mandalay, while saying the misuse of newfound media freedoms was responsible for escalating tensions.

In a radio address on Monday evening, Thein Sein blamed poverty and poor education for the rise in clashes between Buddhists and Muslims since his government came to power three years ago, but said some instances of religious violence have been caused by instigators. “Severe action will be taken against those who intentionally spread hate speech and caused the riots, regardless of their race or religion,” he said.

The clashes that began last Tuesday in Burma’s second-biggest city were sparked by reports on social media that a Buddhist woman had been raped by two Muslim men. Fighting continued throughout the week, mostly at night, until the government imposed a curfew in the city.

Two people were killed in the violence, while at least 14 people were injured.

Political commentator Yan Myo Thein said the government had a poor track record when it came to handling religious unrest. “The cabinet has obviously failed to take action, ensure security and solve similar conflicts over the past three years,” he told The Irrawaddy, in reaction to the president’s radio address.

Thein Sein offered his condolences to the families of the Muslim man and Buddhist man who were slain in the riots last week, and said he appreciated the cooperation of residents with authorities to stop the fighting.

The president also discussed the role of media in maintaining stability, with a chilling warning to reporters.

He said Burma enjoyed some of the highest levels of media freedom in Southeast Asia, after the government abolished pre-publication censorship in 2012, but that those freedoms had been misused. “Affirmative action will be taken against those who threaten state stability rather than using media freedom for good,” he said.

The warning comes as journalists face increasing pressure from Naypyidaw. Human Rights Watch has accused the government of backsliding on press freedom recently, including by imprisoning several journalists over the past year, tightening restrictions on journalist visas and sending Special Branch police officers to news bureaus.

Prominent columnist Sithu Aung Myint said he worried the government was mistakenly conflating hate speech on social media with the reporting of professional journalists. “There will be bad consequences if the government uses the riots as an excuse to control media freedom,” he told The Irrawaddy.

He added, however, that hate speech was a real problem, with people distributing inflammatory messages not only online, but also via posters, CDs, videos and pamphlets. “We do not support the banning of Facebook, but the government needs to find a way to tackle it, because the widespread distribution of hate speech is happening in communities, not only on social media,” he said.

The president has spoken against hate speech at least four times since taking office. “He also said in 2013 that action would be taken against those who promoted hate speech, but no action was taken,” Sithu Aung Myint said.

4 Responses to Burmese President Warns Media After Mandalay Riots

  1. Why should journalists mention religion when reporting rape cases? They seem to have a hidden agenda. Journalists who cherish press freedom should expose these trouble makers to deny any excuse for the regime to back track on press freedom. Expose all rotten apples in this profession.

  2. Thein Sein does not want the media to reveal the truth about the Mandalay riot. Because the riot was premeditated orchestrated by USDP party. No democratic government must never warn the media like Thein Sein did. Why? USDP has a lot to hide in their dirty scheme to attack NLD which is badly feared by USDP. Foxy regime is the root of all evil in Myanmar. Muslims are just the bait and the victims.

  3. Media must have responsibility and must write all the news in accurately without bias. At the same time media shall not be forced to do this and that. There should be freedom of expression and free press. Media should not instigate to create misunderstanding between Buddhist and Muslims in the country. Thomas Jeffersdon said that let me makes the news paper I do not care who makes the law. That is absolutely correct but ther is also has the responsibility not to instigate within the society.

    Arakan violence was instigated by media with bias intention. Most of the media peoples were one sided during that time not given any sympathetic feeling towards Arakanese Muslims and Muslims Rohingya. Such kind of media personals shall be taken drastic action.

  4. Mandalay mayhem, like Rakhine riot was committed by vested interest groups who has links with organizations outside the country. Even though no mention should be done in reporting of races, there are already ripe speculations everywhere who are behind the scene. The government may not be excluded. But when we analyze the results, and look at the developments of a riot or a mayhem, like a groomed criminal investigator, we the general readers of this magazine ask many questions for the answer. The Irrawaddy cannot satisfy all our questions, and their kind of investigation is still very green. We want more mature investigations conducted. For example Ducheeratan expedition brought no clear answer to many questions. Mandalay too, where loudspeakers were used to issue orders to make the situation from bad to worse, besides the motorbike riders who roamed the streets with full vigor. Well killing a police officer, in any civilized society, cannot be taken very lightly. When the killers flee the country and take shelter in a neighboring country, the situation gets very complicated. Then suddenly Islamist media picks up the stories and give a twist: Burma using chemical to burn the houses of ‘innocent’ Rohinygas. Who does what, and where stands the truth? When the truth is twisted by the extremist media abroad, what does the government do? Or the responsible home media do? Can there be reign to the free media today? If so why do you restrain the media? Because doing this will make the anti-state and anti-human media abroad grow more poisonous and cause more complication? There is hardly anything nowadays as responsible media. And there is hardly any truth anywhere in the media reports. Only a responsible and serious thinking person can just judge the truth from the false. Press freedom or no freedom has no meaning nowadays. When reporting Ducheeratan, the Irrawaddy did not cover the fact that there was no burial ground for all thouse ‘hundreds’ or ‘thousands’ killed as suggested by different Rohingya media everywhere. Sorry to say this but for peace to reinstate, responsible and thinking people will contribute more than the media can do.

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