Ma Ba Tha Denies Responsibility for ‘Coffee Annan’ Gaffe

By Tin Htet Paing 1 September 2016

RANGOON — Burma’s hardline nationalist group has claimed that it was “not responsible” for a photo condemning the appointment of former United Nations chief Kofi Annan to lead an advisory panel on conflict-torn Arakan State.

Wire news service the Associated Press (AP) reported on the incident two days earlier, pointing out that a photo of Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman had been used in place of Kofi Annan—whose name was misspelled as “Coffee” in a statement reading [sic], “We no need Coffee Annan” and “He go away.”

The post of the “Kofi-Morgan” went viral among Burmese netizens, amassing nearly 5,000 shares and hundreds of thousands of likes.

AP claimed that the viral photo had been published by a “prominent anti-Muslim group of Buddhist nationalists.”

The group in question was the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion-Central—best known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha—which issued a statement on Thursday declaring that the photo was fabricated by a “fake” Ma Ba Tha page in an attempt to defame the group. Ma Ba Tha added that the news organization The Washington Post, which republished AP’s original story, had “failed to fact-check as per journalism ethic.”

“Such misleading news analysis published on August 30 resulted the whole world feeling contempt for the Ma Ba Tha group,” the statement said. Ma Ba Tha, it added, “has not released any comment or statement regarding the advisory commission which will be chaired by Kofi Annan.”

Ashin Sopaka, one of the leading monks within Ma Ba Tha-Central, said that members of the organization were upset that an international news organization had mistakenly reported on an “unsubstantiated” photo created by a fake account.

“I hope such a mistake won’t happen again,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Ma Ba Tha also cited an old statement by its Mandalay-based group, released on July 16, which stated that the Facebook page belonging to “Ma Ba Tha-Mandalay Tine”—which means “Ma Ba Tha-Mandalay Division” in Burmese—was “fake,” and provided names for Ma Ba Tha’s two active official accounts.

The first activity on the reportedly fake Facebook page occurred on June 5.

AP, on Thursday, published a correction to its original story of and said it had “reported erroneously.”

On the same day, Wirathu, one of the most prominent monks representing Ma Ba Tha, also said on his Facebook page that the photo was created by a fake Facebook page going by the name of the association’s Mandalay group, claiming that international media had failed to confirm the credibility of the photo.

The Irrawaddy, on Wednesday, had found a total of seven versions of the post on the Ma Ba Tha—Mandalay Tine page’s edited history from Aug. 29-31. In three of the seven versions, there were texts written in English saying, “Wtf! This prank was dedicated to our stupid nationalists but it accidentally revealed the fact that Western Media has always failed to dig up the truth deep inside regarding the conflict in Arakan.”

The page has also changed its cover photo on Wednesday, revealing a text stating, “You just got pranked AP. Lol.”

Several political parties, including the Arakan National Party and the Union Solidarity and Development Party, have denounced the appointment of the former UN General-Secretary Kofi Annan as chair of the Arakan State Advisory Commission, a committee which intends to make recommendations for addressing ongoing ethnoreligious tension and abuses in the region.

Ma Ba Tha’s statement on Thursday also decried the commission’s lack of regional specialists—such as historians, researchers and anthropologists specialized in Arakan affairs. The nine-member panel formed by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is made up of three international representatives, two Arakanese Buddhists, two Muslim delegates, and two members chosen to represent the government.