Junta muzzles media, activists on Rohingya issue during Suu Kyi’s visit to Thailand
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Junta muzzles media, activists on Rohingya issue during Suu Kyi’s visit to Thailand

THE junta has cracked down on attempts by media and activists to put the spotlight on the plight of the Rohingya minority in Burma (Myanmar) during Aung San Suu Kyi’s highly-publicized official visit to Thailand.

Authorities forced the cancellation of a press conference and presentation at the Foreign Correspondents Club Thailand (FCCT) premises by the Rohingya Thailand Group on Thursday, amid the government’s concerns that the controversial issue would upset Burma’s de facto leader.

Rather than carry out the press conference as planned, representatives of the NGOs were only allowed to give brief statements and were forbidden from answering questions from the media.

Siwawong Suktavee, a Thai activist with the Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons (CRSP), read out a statement, while the Rohingya Thailand Group’s secretary-general, Hajee Ismail, distributed an open letter addressed to State Counsellor Suu Kyi.

In the statement, the NGOs asked Burma to “stop discriminating against the ethnic minorities” and “consider acceding to international human rights treaties”.

“All our hopes in the leadership of democratic statesmen have faded away. Indeed, we did not hope this sort of harsh and negative political stance and undemocratic rhetoric from our noble peace laureate,” it said.

As he was leaving the venue, Maung Kyaw Nu, president of the Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand, told Voice of America that he had “little hope the plight of the Rohingya would be addressed by Aung San Suu Kyi during her visit”.

“We cannot get anything from her because she is also violating the human rights [of the Rohingya],” he added.

According to the Bangkok Post, there are also unconfirmed reports saying that Hajee Ismail was detained by police after the event for giving a brief interview to a reporter.

SEE ALSO: UN rights chief urges Suu Kyi’s govt to end discrimination against Rohingya

In Burma, even the mere mention of the marginalized Muslim minority has become a sensitive issue.

Earlier this week, Burma’s Information Ministry issued a directive banning the use of the terms “Rohingya” or “Bengali” among its officials. Suu Kyi herself told the UN special rapporteur on human rights Yanghee Lee that the government will avoid using the terms in a bid to distance itself from international criticism of its complicity in the continued persecution of the Rohingya.

Throughout her three-day visit, the media have also been informed that Suu Kyi would not be taking any questions from the press, even during a joint news conference in Bangkok with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

The Thai government appears to be acquiescing to Suu Kyi’s unspoken demand to not discuss the issue, as Prayuth was reported as saying that he would not bring it up with her during the visit, adding that it would be “interfering” with Burma’s internal affairs.

Many Rohingya have attempted to escape oppression in Burma and made their way to Thailand, where there is currently an unknown number of Rohingya refugees in detention centers.