The most striking example of restricted access to journalists is the Rakhine State, located in the southwest of Myanmar. There is mounting evidence that at least 48 Muslims were killed here in January by a Buddhist mob. However, the Burmese government has repeatedly denied this claim. Statements appear frequently in the state-run media and on government websites saying that violence did not take place. Foreign journalists are denied access in the region and aid workers are given increasingly limited access making it hard to confirm the level of violence that took place and the actual number of people who died.
About 80% of Burma’s 1 million Muslim Rohingya population resides in the Rakhine state. Not only is this region geographically isolated by a mountain range but it is also physically isolated from the rest of the world due to strict government controls on who is granted access to the area. Getting to North Rakhine requires crossing through numerous check points and providing official documents to prove the government has granted permission. Only a handful of foreign journalists have done it.
The massacre of these Muslims has increased international concern for the Rohingya minority. According to the UN, they are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. They are deprived of basic liberties such as the ability to travel freely and freedom of religion. In February, Doctors Without Borders was expelled from the country leaving the Rohingya with nowhere to go for medical service. Admission to a Burmese hospital requires a lengthy approval process and most Muslims are frightened that the care they receive will not actually help their case. There are no health records to access because the Burmese government either fails to keep them or if they do exist will not share them. With no journalists or aid workers in the region it is difficult to assess how many Muslims have been killed and the human rights abuses that are taking place.
US Ambassador Derek Mitchell requested that an international representative be a part of the investigating team to confirm what took place when the mob attacked the village. This request was denied by Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwan, who stated it was an “internal affair.”
The reporting of events that take place in the Rakhine region are based on reports from aid workers, sometimes local journalists, and the few foreign journalists who gain access. As a result, reports are inaccurate and largely based on the response of the international community because so little can be deduced from Myanmar itself.