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Is New York Times Reporter Hannah Beech Playing On Behalf of Myanmar Military?

Tengku Emma Zuriana bt Tengku Azmi 
RB Opinion
February 8, 2018

I was deeply disturbed by Hannah Beech’s controversial article in the New York Times, published on February 1, with the title “The Rohingya Suffer Real Horrors. So Why Are Some of Their Stories Untrue?”. While everyone looks with disdain at the barbaric act of Myanmar against Rohingya, being a member of ASEAN, I can affirm that her article exactly narrates the Myanmar military's version that Myanmar armed forces did nothing to Rohingya and Rohingya are lying. In addition, the essay could create doubts that might shift attention from genocidal issues to trivial ones which are magnified to give a distorted picture to the international community.

It seems to me that Hannah Beech deliberately chose to highlight Rohingya children fond of cricket including a 9-year-old unaccompanied child and man having 6 wives (this is surprising as men are allowed to have only 4 wives in Islam). I keep asking myself why she chose to sensationalize such trivial issues when the resignation of Bill Richardson from Myanmar Advisory Committee in the Rohingya crisis and AP's report by Foster Klug on the discovery of 5 mass graves at 'Gudar Pyin' require urgent international attention. Bill Richardson accused the committee of trying to whitewash Myanmar military's crimes against the Rohingya. This is a very serious accusation that needs attention.

During my visit to genocide survivors camps in Cox’s Bazar Bangladesh with the European Rohingya Council Chairman, Dr. Hla Kyaw, to organize mobile clinic, I still remember a woman who claimed to be a Rohingya and tried to gain sympathy by telling sad stories of her missing husband and her child who hadn’t eaten for days. Once the woman left, Dr. Hla Kyaw said “she’s not a Rohingya but a Bangladeshi, who is poor and having a difficult life. Her dialect is identical to the Rohingya but some of the words uttered are not used by the Rohingya.” 

In the race for survival, occasional lies like this does happen in Cox’s Bazar as in any other parts in the world. We should not play the victim-blaming game; and forget what Myanmar has done to 688,000 Rohingya refugees who just survived Myanmar’s genocidal campaign and are forced to flee their homeland, crossing treacherous sea and inhospitable terrain.

Hannah apparently tried to bring another side of the story within the crisis but her attempt will only strengthen the narrative of Myanmar who wants to wipe out Rohingya from Rakhine so that they can monopolize the rich natural resources with China that already has 70% stake in 'Kyauk Pyu' deep sea port and materialize China's big ambition: “Belt & Road” infrastructure network. 

China is renowned for her human rights abuses of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang [East Turkistan] and also a veto member of Security Council that has, in the past, vetoed all resolutions on Rohingya. The reason China gives for doing so is to allow Myanmar time to solve their internal problems as a new democratic state. The lame excuse should not be used as the crisis has affected neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and India.

Matters like these should be given attention by professional investigative journalists to help prevent continued persecution and genocide inflicted by Myanmar on the Rohingya instead of echoing Myanmar anti-Rohingya propaganda. 

The skewed reporting reminds me of a social media viral on Facebook by irresponsible netizens -- who gave a negative picture of the Rohingya without checking the facts -- in Malaysia in September 2017. It poisoned the minds of the locals who looked at the Ampang Park melee. We should instead look at reasons for them to be refugees and not blame them for being forced to flee to Malaysia.

The only way to solve refugees problem is not to create refugees, but to bring the perpetrator to justice. 

Let us hold hands in improving the plight of the Rohingya.

Tengku Emma Zuriana bt Tengku Azmi is Ambassador to Malaysia, The European Rohingya Council

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