Myanmar army’s ‘chilling’ fake history of Rohingya people

New book mislabels images from Rwanda genocide and Bangladesh violence to smear Muslim minority

Rohingya refugees arriving by boat in Dakhinpara, Bangladesh
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The Myanmar military has published an “official” account of the Rohingya crisis that contains mislabelled photos falsely purporting to show the Muslim minority attacking civilians and streaming into the country as illegal immigrants.

At least 10,000 Rohingya have died and more than 700,000 fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in the past year, amid horrifying tales of slaughter, torture, rape and destruction carried out by the Burmese army.

Throughout the crisis, the Myanmar authorities have maintained that the operations are targeted at armed insurgents and that reports of atrocities against civilians are inventions or exaggerations by the Rohingya, whom they refer to as “Bengalis” and view as unwanted immigrants.

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To reinforce this narrative, the army’s public relations bureau last month released a 117-page book about the Rohingya people’s alleged history and the present crisis.

The account, replete with doctored images and false captions, represents a “chilling rewriting of history in what appears to be an attempt to justify the killing of thousands of Rohingya”, says The Guardian.

One black-and-white photo purports to show Rohingya immigrants streaming into Myanmar following the end of British colonial rule, in 1948. The caption describes how the Bengalis “intruded” into the country.

However, using Google’s reverse image search tool, Reuters reporters were able to ascertain that the photo was taken in 1996 and actually depicts Hutu refugees in Tanzania during the Rwandan genocide.

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A second “historical” image of Bengali migration is, in fact, a photo of the Myanmar navy seizing a migrant vessel in 2015, “flipped and converted to black and white”, says Reuters.

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In both instances, the images appear to have been made blurred and grainy in order to look authentically dated and disguise their true provenance, adds The Guardian.

Another photo apparently shows Rohingyas carrying out atrocities against Burmese civilians. A man is pictured standing on a shore next to several dead bodies, and the caption reads: “Bengalis killed local ethnics brutally.”

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Ironically, the photo actually depicts a Bengali man retrieving the corpses of fellow Bengalis killed by the Pakistani Army during violence in Bangladesh in the 1970s.

Earlier this week, a UN report declared the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar to be “genocide” - the first time the organisation has used the term in reference to the crisis - and called for Burmese army commanders to face trial for war crimes.

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