A government spokesman on Wednesday moved quickly to refute a report from a national broadcaster that seven soldiers who were convicted for involvement in a high-profile massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State were released a day earlier as part of a mass amnesty marking the Burmese New Year.
The anchor reading the report from government-affiliated Myanmar National TV (MNTV), which originally aired on Tuesday, said: “Among the prisoners who were released from Sittwe Prison were seven Tatmadawmen [Burmese military personnel] who were imprisoned in relation to the Inn Din village issue,” in what appeared to be a reference to the men in uniform who were sentenced to 10 years in prison earlier this month for “contributing and participating in murder.”
But Zaw Htay, the government spokesman, took to Facebook and Twitter to rebut the report and the video clip, which was posted on the Facebook page of MNTV on Wednesday, was taken down shortly after it went up, but not before it had caused a stir on social media.
MNTV followed up with a formal retraction, saying in a statement that its reporting was “based on information collected from the ground. Since CNB [the Central News Bureau] has learned from the most recent news update that the imprisoned Tatmadawmen were not among the released prisoners, CNB earnestly acknowledges that the above-mentioned reporting was incorrect.”
The massacre at Inn Din, in Rakhine State’s northern Maungdaw Township, has taken on prominence as one of the few instances thus far in which alleged atrocities against the Rohingya have been met with accountability measures by Burmese authorities.
The UN has accused state security forces of ethnic cleansing during a months-long counterinsurgency campaign that was launched in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents on 25 August. The government and military deny nearly all of the allegations, insisting that security operations in Rakhine State have been lawful and targeted only at the Muslim militants.
A presidential amnesty on Tuesday saw a total of 8,490 inmates released from prisons across the country as a traditional gesture to mark Burma’s New Year. Among those pardoned were 36 political prisoners.