YANGON – The Myanmar government announced that it was investigating controversial photos posted online that claimed to show Muslim residents burning down their houses in conflict-torn Maungdaw, Rakhine State, on Thursday evening.
President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay released a statement that warned, “Everyone will be treated equally by the law, whoever is behind the case.”
The photos went viral online on Thursday morning, with some local news outlets erroneously publishing the photos as news. Netizens questioned the authenticity of the photos, some pointing to inconsistencies in religious dress and others stating that the men in the photos were Hindu men that were currently sheltering in Maungdaw after their village had been burned at the end of August.
In the photos, people pour fuel on thatched houses and light them on fire. U Zaw Htay tweeted the controversial images and captioned them “Bengalis [Rohingya] setting fire to their own homes.”
When strong public criticism resulted, the government spokesman deleted his post and stated that the government would investigate the images. He then called on the public not to behave unethically to try to prove that Muslim residents were torching their own homes, a claim that has been brought against them. Government officials have blamed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army for torching thousands of homes, while fleeing civilians have accused Myanmar Army soldiers.
Human Rights Watch analyzed satellite imagery that showed widespread burning in at least 17 distinct areas in Rakhine State since ARSA attacks on police outposts occurred on Aug. 25. The rights group has called for access to independent monitors to assess the source of the fires and the allegations.
U Zaw Htay added, “Govt won’t accept any fake,” in his post.