UN Rights Envoy Retweets False Report of Amnesty for Soldiers Who Killed Rohingya

By Moe Myint 19 April 2018

YANGON — The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee on Wednesday retweeted a false news report that seven Myanmar military personnel jailed for taking part in a massacre of Rohingya had been released as part of the president’s New Year’s amnesty.

Lee retweeted video footage from Myanmar National Television on her Twitter account on Wednesday, accompanied by the message, “Where is justice? 7 Tadmadaw guilty of Inn Dinn massacre released but the 2 #Reuters journalists remain in prison?” The name Tatmadaw refers to Myanmar’s military.

A false news report retweeted by UN rights envoy Yanghee Lee on Wednesday continued to appear on her Twitter account as of Thursday.

The report later turned out to be false.

The false report was first broadcast on Myanmar National Television on Wednesday, but was pulled off the air after an hour. MNTV is a government-affiliated broadcaster run by Sky Net. It is owned by Shwe Thanlwin Company, which is chaired by tycoon U Kyaw Win.

Myanmar President’s Office spokesman Zaw Htay told The Irrawaddy by telephone on Wednesday that the MNTV report was totally false. He confirmed that the military prisoners are still in jail.

“The news is not true,” he said. “They must apologize for it.”

MNTV on Thursday apologized for the false report in a post on its Facebook page.

According to official documents, the New Year’s amnesty included 55 army deserters, 29 drug smugglers (including some Rakhine and Muslim convicts), and three people convicted of violating the Unlawful Associations Act.

The MNTV report misstated that 97 prisoners from Sittwe prison has been pardoned, when in fact the total was 87.

Pyone Kathy Naing, a Lower House National League for Democracy lawmaker, said it was wrong of Lee, as a high-profile UN official involved in solving the Rakhine crisis, to retweet misinformation, as it could have a negative impact on the situation.

“She shared the information without knowing whether or not it is true. So, it is very questionable whether she wants to tackle the complexity of the Rakhine issue, or is making it more difficult. Myanmar should make [an official] response,” Pyone Kathy Naing said.

Lee was not alone in spreading the fake news.

Human rights group Fortify Rights also tweeted: “#Myanmar state-run media announced that seven soldiers convicted for the massacre of #Rohingya in Inn Dinn were free yesterday in a presidential amnesty. Impunity reigns in Myanmar. The time for International Justice is Now.”

Fortify Rights also republished the false story on Wednesday but later took it down.

As of Thursday afternoon, Lee had not deleted the post—which had been retweeted 60 times—from her twitter account. The human rights group’s post had been taken down.

The Myanmar Army sentenced the seven men to 10 years’ imprisonment for the extrajudicial killings in September of 10 Rohingya in the village of Inn Din in southern Maungdaw Township in the north of Rakhine State. Two local reporters working for Reuters who had investigated the killings have been detained since late last year and are now on trial for allegedly violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act.

Lee has been barred from entering Myanmar since December. The government and military had complained that Lee’s reporting on the situation in Myanmar had been biased for about six months leading up to the ban.

The special rapporteur’s mandate requires two visits to Myanmar a year, in order to report to the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. Since taking up the mandate in June 2014, Lee has visited Myanmar six times.