Myanmar: Reporters barred from covering refugee vaccine rollout in Rakhine State

Reporters have been prevented from covering a vaccine drive amongst Myanmar’s Rohingya population in Rakhine State after their access to internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps was denied by police. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns these restrictions to press freedom and urges Myanmar authorities to allow the media to report without constraint.

Members of the internally displaced Rohingya Muslim community people are seen at the Thet Kay Pyin camp in Sittwe, Rakhine State on June 5, 2021. Credit: STR/AFP

Two news crews were denied entry to camps in Rakhine State, which house Myanmar’s largest Muslim population, prompting concerns of violations to press freedom.  

The incident follows a statement made in August by Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for Myanmar’s ruling military, ensuring that Myanmar would vaccinate its minority Muslim Rohingya population against COVID-19, referring to the group as “Bengalis”. Despite this claim, specific eligibility criteria were not disclosed. 

The Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine State are a population who, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, have “faced decades of systematic discrimination, statelessness and targeted violence”.

Tun Tha, editor of Western News, a Rakhine state news outlet, stated that although media have freely reported on other IDP camps, they are unable to cover IDP camps with Muslim occupants without explicit clearance. “We are free to cover Rakhine IDPs camp news, whereas we need permission to cover Muslim IDP camps. It seems authorities handle approaches to the Muslim community with discrimination. We take it as disruption of media access in this regard,” Tun Tha said.

Senior reporter with Development Media Group, Khin Tharapi Oo, and her team were also denied entrance to an IDP camp in Sittwe, Rakhine State’s capital. “This is the first time Muslim refugees get vaccinated, we should be allowed to cover it. Authorities should not restrict us to cover this significant news. They do not have sound reason to restrict us,” she said. 

The IFJ said: “The continued restriction of press freedom in Rakhine State, Myanmar is of great concern, especially surrounding critical reportage regarding the minority Rohingya Muslim population. The IFJ condemns actions by the Myanmar military government that preclude the free flow of information.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram