Military Denies Army Chief Used Twitter after Company Blocks Account

By Moe Myint 16 May 2019

YANGON—Military spokesman Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun downplayed Twitter’s suspension of the account of Myanmar Army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, denying the commander-in-chief had ever officially used the social media platform.

Twitter froze the account “@SGMinAungHlaing” on Tuesday soon after Rohingya activist Maung Tun Khin met with Twitter executives in Silicon Valley in California. At the meeting the activist accused the Army chief of masterminding the 2017 Rohingya crisis, which drove more than 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh from their homes in northern Rakhine State.

Maung Tun Khin later wrote on Twitter, “Min Aung Hlaing masterminded a genocide against our people. After a long campaign it appears as though @Twitter has today deleted his account. This is a victory for all Rohingya.”

As of Thursday evening, Twitter had not made a public announcement on the removal of the account, but a search for @SGMinAungHlaing on the site resulted in a message saying “This account has been suspended” with a brief explanation that the account violated the company’s rules. Twitter officials could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Despite Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun’s denial, The Irrawaddy has learned that the account had been tweeting in both English and Burmese for several years. Prior to Twitter’s removal of the account this week, it is not clear whether the military had complained to the company about the existence of any unofficial pages claiming to represent its commander-in-chief.

The style of the writing on Sen-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s official website is similar to that which had appeared on the Twitter account “@SGMinAungHlaing”. When asked to whom the account “@SGMinAungHlaing” belongs, Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun said, “How can I know that?”

He said his commander-in-chief had only officially registered on social media giant Facebook. That account was deleted by the company in August 2018 along with those of dozens of other military generals, along with army propaganda pages and the pages of military-affiliated mouthpieces like Myawaddy and Myanmar Daily Star.

In September 2018, an account with the same user name, Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, appeared on Russian social media platform VKontakte (VK), but a couple of weeks later it was also banned.

The day before Twitter’s action against the account of Sen-Gen. Min Aung Haling, a U.N. fact-finding mission, which had been refused a visa by Myanmar authorities, urged the world to cut off financial and other support for Myanmar’s armed forces over the alleged “genocidal intent” of its activities against the Rohingya in 2017. It called for the country’s top generals to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their role in those activities.

The Irrawaddy’s correspondent contributed to this report from Naypyitaw. A previous version of this story misstated that Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing’s Twitter account had previously received a blue “verified” symbol. This story has corrected that mistake.

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