President’s Office Director Zaw Htay has publically condemned an editorial which appeared in the Burmese version of The Irrawaddy online on Oct. 27 for criticizing the Naypyidaw government’s weak tackling of the current communal strife in Arakan State.
A total of 11 points were listed on Zaw Htay’s Facebook page which suggested that The Irrawaddy should “try to live in the affected townships for two weeks, develop better relations with Buddhist monks, not antagonize the ethnic Arkanese population, avoid using term ‘sectarian and racial conflicts’ and that the government is trying hard to find a solution.”
When contacted by The Irrawaddy, Zaw Htay said, “It is easy to point a figure at someone but the system has changed now and the title of the editorial should not have been ‘Government Weak on tackling Arakan Crisis.’”
He said the views expressed on his page are “totally his personal opinions.”
As social media such as Facebook is widely used among Burmese netizens, Zaw Htay shot to prominence for his comments before and during the recent Arakan communal strife which started in June.
He was the second person to post a photo of the Buddhist teenager Thidar Htwe, whose rape and murder allegedly by three Muslims sparked the initial conflict, on his Facebook page. The photo was deemed inflammatory by the Information Ministry and action was taken against Snapshot news journal for later printing the same image.
Zaw Htay continued to post lots more information during the subsequent violence, leading many media organizations, including The Irrawaddy, to quote information from his page. Later he removed many of these posts which were considered provocative during the social unrest.
Zaw Htay’s Facebook account, under the name “Hmuu Zaw,” has reached the social network’s limit of 5,000 friends but he also has 20,000 subscribers on his public page.
Yeni, the Burmese edition editor of The Irrawaddy, said, “We are concerned about his comments.
“His views will lead to many questions as he is a top official possessing the title of director in the President’s office. Whether or not Zaw Htay’s views reflect the President’s Office remains in doubt.
“We are concerned about media freedom as President Thein Sein paves the way to becoming a democratic society,” added Yeni.
Critics say that Zaw Htay is intolerant to the media and its practitioners’ freedom of expression. He was also notorious for posting anti-Muslim comments on his Facebook page, many of which were subsequently deleted.
“If The Irrawaddy is allowed to criticize the government’s actions in Arakan State, why should I not be allowed to criticize The Irrawaddy?” he asked.
Yeni said that he intends to report the matter to international media watchdogs: The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.