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Myanmar govt to refuse media phone calls after ICC ruling

September 7, 2018

Myanmar’s government spokesman will no longer answer phone calls from media, he said Friday, one day after the International Criminal Court ruled it had jurisdiction to investigate crimes against the country’s Rohingya Muslim community.

Myanmar’s reputation has been further battered in the last two weeks with a damning UN report calling for military chief Min Aung Hlaing and other top generals to be prosecuted for “genocide” after more than 700,000 Rohingya fled a military crackdown last year.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) flexed its muscles Thursday with its unprecedented ruling that it had the power to investigate the forced deportation of Rohingya to Bangladesh, even though Myanmar has not signed the statute underpinning the tribunal.

Myanmar has stonewalled in response to international criticism, barring journalists and diplomats from visiting the scene of the crackdown except on short, military-chaperoned trips.

Communication from authorities is also often slow and scarce, with only one official media spokesman for the entire government.

Now even that channel of information is all but drying up.

“We won’t answer the phone in future,” government spokesman Zaw Htay told reporters in the capital Naypyidaw Friday, adding that he will instead hold press conferences every one or two weeks.

He had been expected to discuss the ICC’s decision, telling AFP on Thursday night that he would answer questions on the matter at the media conference.

But he refused to be drawn on the matter Friday, instead saying the government would give an official statement in response “soon”.

Myanmar has previously rejected any possibility that the ICC could have any jurisdiction over the country.

Bangladesh is a signatory, however, and the judges said that the deportation of the Rohingya amounted to a cross-border crime, thereby giving the court the right to pursue the issue further.

Its ruling means that the ICC’s chief prosecutor can now open a preliminary investigation that could lead to a wider probe and eventually a trial.

The ICC ruling followed international outrage triggered by the sentencing of two local Reuters journalists earlier this week for seven years in jail under a draconian state secrets act.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, had been investigating the extrajudicial killing of Rohingya villagers when they were arrested in December last year.

Rights groups decried the case as a sham trial in a country where press freedom is shrinking.

Zaw Htay declined to comment on the case Friday.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.