IT was in September 2007 when Burmese forces came after M.S. Anwar. He was then an idealistic 18-year-old; jobless but defiant and proud, and armed with an intelligence the local army found threatening.
He still believes till today that there was no real reason for the pursuit, save for the fact that he was then among the few more educated Rohingya living in Maungdaw, a district bordering Bangladesh where an insurgency has been raging for years. The Rohingya, categorised by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted peoples, are a stateless Muslim minority of Burma numbering to a total of about 1.1 million people.
“All of sudden, they started chasing to arrest me for no reason. But it’s a common occurrence in Arakan (Rakhine), where the state’s armed forces would arrest or chase out the educated people for no reason. I was one of those victims,” Anwar tells Asian Correspondent in an interview.
That said, Anwar’s journey in education had already come to an abrupt stop years ago in 2004 when he was just 15 years of age. Although he scored well for his university entrance qualification in Science, with a 72 percent average of six subjects, as a Rohingya, he was not allowed to further his studies.
Without education, gainful employment and life in general was difficult for Anwar. So when security forces began to harass him, Anwar knew he had to leave.
He was almost 20 years old by the time he left Maungdaw for Malaysia in 2009, entering the country after he managed to illegally secure a Bangladeshi passport through an agent.
Today, Anwar is happily married to an activist – a Rohingya like him – and lives in a comfortable flat at the heart of the bustling Kuala Lumpur capital. The man who only a decade ago couldn’t get a college education or any form of university achievement is also gainfully employed… as a journalist and an editor in a media team based in KL.
But this is not just any media team.
This is Rohingya Vision TV, the world’s first Rohingya news channel.
“What I could at least do is help the voices of these victims reach the international community and be a medium to amplify their voice,” Anwar says.
Explaining his journey, he says he first began reporting on issues related to the Rakhine state and Rohingya on Rohingya Blogger, which has over 500 articles on the minority group’s struggles through the years.
In January 2013, he moved to Rohingya Vision TV and hasn’t looked back since.
Rohingya Vision TV, founded on April 21, 2012, is a news agency that broadcasts news programmes on the Rohingya issue through YouTube and satellite TV. It also posts news articles on its website in four different languages, namely Rohingya, Burmese, English and Arabic.
The channel was started by a group of young Rohingya in Saudi Arabia and became fully operational and functional in June 2012, when the infamous Rakhine state riots first sparked.
According to past reports, the 2012 riots began around the second week of June that year. As tensions between the Burmese and the Rohingya rose and riots spread, a state of emergency was declared on June 10. Burmese authorities staged a brutal crackdown on the Rohingya throughout Rakhine state, with villagers claiming houses were burnt, women and children beaten and scores of Rohingya males arrested.
SEE ALSO: Burma terrorizes the Rohingya
Rohingya Vision TV documented the violence from its office in Saudi Arabia.
A year into its operations, it decided to shift its headquarters to a location closer to the action – in Malaysia.
Anwar says that Malaysia was seen as a more convenient and strategic place to operate from, largely due to its proximity to Burma and the fact that it is also home to thousands of Rohingya refugees.
“Now, we have our offices in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, UK and Cyprus from where we do satellite broadcasting,” Anwar says.
As for permits, Anwar explains that the channel’s office in Malaysia is a legally registered company that stands as a production house. Broadcasting, on the other hand, is done by satellites from Cyprus.
There are 14 people in total who work for the channel, four of whom are news writers and content developers. The channel has four news anchors – two men and two women, and a four-member camera and technical crew. Anwar himself is Rohingya Vision’s editor while Muhammed Noor is managing director.
Anwar says all 14 staff members work tirelessly day and night with salaries below minimum wage. It also relies heavily on help from volunteers who come forward with daily reports.
Why? Because, says Anwar, Rohingya Vision’s objective is to give a voice to the voiceless. He notes that back home in Rakhine state, much of the plight of the Rohingya goes unreported. Humanitarian workers and journalists are banned from conflict areas.
But Anwar claims Rohingya Vision has correspondents working from Rakhine state. In fact, he says, the channel has informants in almost every township there. But reporting can be dangerous, he adds, as Burmese authorities would arrest and imprison them if they were to find evidence that they were feeding reports to the channel in Kuala Lumpur.
“There is always a danger for our reporters and we are unable to help them in case of any arrests either,” Anwar explains.
“Most of our reporters work at their own risk because to every Rohingya, the only weapon left to defend their rights and to save themselves from being exterminated, is the media and creating awareness among the international community.”
— Rohingya Vision (@RohingyaVision) December 15, 2016
The channel also runs on limited resources. Funds and equipment come from a group of Rohingya businessmen who reside in Saudi Arabia but according to Anwar, the money will eventually run out.
“We are moving to seek funding from the NGOs from the West, as the financing the Rohingya businessmen is unsustainable for the long term,” he says.
Although operating from Malaysia is safe, Anwar tells Asian Correspondent that his team has run into its fair share of problems.
For example, Rohingya Vision had its website hacked on Oct 9, by what he believes were “state-backed Burmese hackers”. He claims the hack was because the channel was the first to report on the violence against the Rohingya that day, which started after several border posts in Burma were attacked.
“A few hours after I posted the news on the website, it was hacked and down for next 24 hours disabling us from reporting in written forms. After that, we recovered it and tightened the website securities,” he said.
— Rohingya Vision (@RohingyaVision) October 9, 2016
Anwar claims the Burmese Information Ministry (MOI) has also “arbitrarily” labelled Rohingya Vision TV an extremist channel. This, he said, happened when a Rohingya was nabbed in Rakhine state for having the channel’s videos on his phone, among other things.
But the still-defiant Anwar says these are just minor setbacks. He is determined to push on, especially when the violence in Rakhine continues to rage on.
He says the channel has plans to expand by setting up branches in Thailand, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan and most ambitious of all, a secret branch in Rakhine state.
“We are successful with our website, YouTube broadcasting and Satellite TV broadcasting in the Middle Eastern region. The next step is to launch satellite TV broadcasting in the ASEAN region,” Anwar says.
Rohingya Vision TV gets 8,000 visitors a day and over 70,000 views on its YouTube channel on average daily. There are also satellite programs which are available in the Middle East and North African countries under NileSat.