The Myanmar regime’s No. 2 man, along with an adviser, a minister and pro-regime media were behind the junta’s decision to take legal action against The Irrawaddy and the BBC Burmese Service for their reporting on last week’s fatal shooting at the base of Kyaik Htee Yoe Pagoda in Mon State.
Three Buddhist pilgrims were killed during a firefight between regime troops stationed there and a resistance force on Wednesday.
The regime accused an anti-regime People’s Defense Force (PDF) group allied with the Karen National Liberation Army’s Brigade 1, the civilian National Unity Government (NUG) and its parliamentary wing for the attack. It said three people were killed and 19 injured.
Local people said the incident began when the resistance group attacked a regime outpost at the site, and the pilgrims were killed when the junta soldiers opened fire in response.
The Irrawaddy reported the incident and the BBC Burmese Service interviewed the local resistance group, Thaton PDF, which claimed responsibility for the attack on the outpost but denied opening fire on civilians. The resistance group blamed the junta for the civilian deaths. Other Myanmar media outlets reported the fatal shooting, too.
On Friday, the regime announced it would take legal action against the news outlets under the Communications Law, News Media Law and other laws for reporting that security forces opened fire on pilgrims, contradicting its official account.
“Pessimistic Irrawaddy and BBC news agencies turned a blind eye to the correct information [which] mentioned security forces opened fire at pilgrims,” the statement said.
The Irrawaddy has learned that the junta’s deputy chief, Soe Win, took charge of issuing the orders for legal action to be taken, as junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was in Pyin Oo Lwin at the time.
The action against The Irrawaddy came after one of the regime’s advisers, Dr. Yin Yin Nwe, complained about the news outlet’s reporting on the attack on her Facebook page, saying, “This is Fake News! It contradicts all evidence and eyewitness accounts! It is NUG-PDF who murdered our Buddhist pilgrims.”
Then, others joined the bandwagon, including regime Minister of International Cooperation Ko Ko Hlaing. He commented under Yin Yin Nwe’s post: “What [matters] is how to counter their black propaganda effectively. I think it is crucial and urgent to do that.”
It has been learned that Yin Yin Nwe reported to Soe Win about The Irrawaddy’s story, while pro-regime media organizations Myanmar Hard Talk and Myanmar National Post complained to Chief of Military Security Affairs Lieutenant General Ye Win Oo asking him to take action against the BBC Burmese Service, which has been allowed by the junta to operate inside Myanmar along with 18 other foreign news agencies.
Since the coup in February 2021, The Irrawaddy, one of the country’s independent news media outlets, has been targeted by the regime several times for its critical reporting on the junta. Its website has been banned by the regime.
In March last year, the military regime sued the news outlet under Article 505 (a) for “disregarding” the armed forces in reporting on the anti-regime protests that were occurring at the time. The police opened a case against The Irrawaddy as a whole rather than individual employees, making it the first news outlet to be sued by the regime after the coup.
On two occasions later that year, The Irrawaddy’s office in downtown Yangon was raided by security forces. No one was arrested during the raids, as The Irrawaddy ceased its operation inside Myanmar following the coup.
Myanmar has become the world’s second-biggest jailer of journalists since last year’s military takeover, with more than 140 journalists detained. Over 60 remain behind bars and four journalists have died in custody.