Rohingya repatriation: Fake photo propaganda creates concerns

Published : Tuesday, 11 September, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Even after more than a year, the fate of 7.5 lacs Rohingyas remains in uncertainty as they lost their rights to live on the soil where they were born and brought up. From august last year, this third phase of Rohingya influx to Bangladesh took place and as Bangladesh opened its door to provide shelters to these people who were brutally tortured by the Myanmar Army and their associate Buddhists, this number grew so large within a very short time. 

These men, women and children were forced to abandon their houses, lands, properties and lives. This is the worst possible genocide which took away innumerable lives and the United Nation (UN) rightfully termed it as ‘ethnic cleansing’. The Myanmar government and army repeatedly denied their barbaric acts despite thousand of proofs published in the international media. Alarmingly, recently Myanmar army is trying to justify their works by publishing books which contains fake pictures of Bangladesh and Rohingyas committing similar crimes over the Buddhists and this portrays not only their denial but also their unwillingness to solicit the issue.

Rohingya issue became an important agenda for the UN and its bodies on the eve of one year of the influx. In the meeting of UNSC, this issue was raised and strong statements were issued. But there was no substantial pressure implied on Myanmar. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, accompanied by UNHCR Chief Filippo Grandi and Word Bank President Jin Yong-kim visited several refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar on July 2 this year where they met and talked to members of the persecuted Muslim minority.  The UN chief once again used the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ to define the cause behind the situation of these ill-fated Rohingyas. But there is yet to take any action which can drive Myanmar to respond though these ongoing events slightly bothered Myanmar as they are acting on justifying their wrong-doings. 

Responding to the hatred of the global people due to Myanmar army’s inhuman torture over the Rohingyas which resulted in beheading of men, raping of women, killing of children and burning of houses, Myanmar army published a new book. This book on the Rohingya crisis written by Myanmar military propagandists used fake photographs and a frightening alternation of history which appears to be an effort to give good reason for killing thousands of Rohingya over the last year through brutal attacks by the army that the UN has condemned as genocide. 

The 117-page book, published in July, 2018 by the army’s department of public relations and psychological warfare, includes photographs which they termed as “documentary photos”. But an investigation by Reuters revealed that the origin of three of the eight historical photographs included in that book was faked.

The book professes the images were taken in the western state of Rakhine but in reality one was taken in Bangladesh, one in Tanzania and a third falsely claimed to portray Rohingyas entering Myanmar from Bangladesh, when in reality it showed them attempting to leave. One of the photographs shows a man standing over two bodies, handling a farming tool. The text says the image shows murdered Buddhists by Rohingyas during ethnic riots in the 1940s. But a Reuters inspection of the photograph shows, it was actually taken during the independence war of Bangladesh in 1971 when hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis were killed by Pakistani troops.

Another image with the caption “Bengalis intruded into the country after the British Colonialism occupied the lower part of Myanmar” shows a crowd of men who appear to be on a long march with their backs bent over due to carrying goods. The photo is apparently intended to illustrate Rohingyas arriving in Myanmar during the colonial era which ended in 1948. Reuters determined the picture is in fact a fuzzy adaptation of a coloured image taken in 1996 by Martha Rial for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of refugees fleeing the genocide in Rwanda.

The third picture also printed in black and white with the caption “Bengalis entered Myanmar via the watercourse”, shows men aboard a rickety boat. In reality, the original photo depicts Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants leaving Myanmar in 2015, when tens of thousands fled to Thailand and Malaysia. The original picture was rotated and blurred so the photo looks coarse. Funny that it was sourced from Myanmar’s own Ministry of Information. This type of false use of pictures by the army of any government shows how evil a work they are trying to hide.

Upon the global disclosure of this shameful misuse of the picture by Reuters, the Myanmar army issued a rare apology on September 3, 2018  acknowledging that two photographs it published in a book on the crisis over the Rohingya Muslim minority were “published incorrectly”. They are yet to recognize the misuse of the third picture.

The dispute between the Myanmar army and the Rohingyas lies far in the past. During World War II in Burma, today’s Myanmar, Rohingya Muslims were ally to the British forces as they were promised a free state in return. On the other hand, the local Buddhists were ally with the Japanese forces, ally of the German Nazi forces. As a result, there were several fights between the Rohingya Muslims and the local Buddhists. But that was an act of war only and cannot justify any future genocide as revenge. 

After independence in 1948, the newly created union government of the mostly Buddhist country denied citizenship to the Rohingyas and subjected them to extensive systematic discrimination in the country. In the course of time, all citizenship rights of the Rohingyas were wiped off by the Myanmar military government.

These Rohingyas, majorly Muslim with some Hindu minority, lived in discrimination for a long time. Described by the United Nations in 2013 as one of the most victimized minorities in the world, the Rohingya population is denied citizenship under the 1982 Myanmar nationality law. They were denied of their basic rights for decades.
High hopes were placed on Noble Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi when her party came into the power of Myanmar government. The Rohingyas believed that she will work for their welfare. But in reality, the most brutal attack on the Rohingyas took place while Suu Kyi is serving as the State Counsellor of the country. 

Throughout this genocide, Suu Kyi remained silent and whenever she spoke, attempted to justify the actions of the army. She was criticized by the whole world for her disgraceful role as she allowed the army to throw away 7.5 lacs people from the country. Many honours bestowed upon her were pulled away though the Noble prize still exists which dishonours the prize itself.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina acted generously to provide this huge number of Rohingyas shelter. They are now living here for over a year. Different countries and the donor agencies supported the Bangladeshi government at every stage to help out settling these people. The children are even receiving education. Rohingyas are now moderately settled in the temporary camps but still lack different facilities to survive properly. 

Bangladesh, being an over-populated country itself, has been an excellent host for these refugees but their repatriation has become the greatest worry for us now. We cannot deny the fact that, our capacity to support this huge number of people is limited and requires external support which has decreased a lot in the recent months. So, time is very short to arrange their repatriation and there is no real concern from the Myanmar government regarding this issue despite worldwide request to their head of the government.

While we are trying to find out ways to repatriate the Rohingyas and send them back to Myanmar, the military propagandists of Myanmar are trying to justify their acts using photographs with false backgrounds. They are trying to link this genocide with the events of World War II as their army chief also once indicated that uprooting the Rohingyas was an act of revenge and considered as an achievement. They are just acting as the Nazi forces of the Second World War and hence should be punished with similar intensity.

After such shameful act, we cannot depend on them to arrange the repatriation of these refugees. International Criminal Court (ICC) has provided a decision to cover this barbaric act as an international crime which is a significant step in the right direction which opens up a clear avenue of justice for the Rohingyas. Hence, the court has sent a clear signal to the Myanmar military that they will be held accountable and Suu Kyi should also be brought under justice. 

In the current context, if the global leaders and organizations fail to put strong pressure on the Myanmar government, it will not be possible to give back lives to these people. They need to act fast to free these refugees from their sufferings. It is clear that, Myanmar does not care about human rights as well as the pressure from the world community and it is high time to show if the world really cares.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)

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