(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. appealed part of a Washington judge’s order to turn over internal documents related to accounts that helped incite genocidal violence against the Muslim minority in Myanmar. The company is challenging U.S. Magistrate Zia Faruqi’s September directive to release content from government-backed accounts that helped spark violence against the Rohingya Muslims, as well as related documents from an internal investigation into the platform’s role in instigating the Rohingya.
Facebook said in a court filing late Wednesday that it’s willing to work with Gambia “to produce tens of millions to hundreds of millions of pages of relevant public information and non-content metadata to help” the case against Myanmar. But the company argued that Faruqi went too far in ordering the broad release of non-public information, including records from Facebook’s internal probe, in light of a federal law protecting the privacy and free-speech rights of internet users.
In his ruling, Faruqi found that most of Gambia’s request was permissible under the Stored Communications Act, the law Facebook invoked. “Locking away the requested content would be throwing away the opportunity to understand how disinformation begat genocide of the Rohingya,” Faruqi wrote.
Facebook argued Wednesday that Faruqi’s “sweeping and unprecedented ruling is inconsistent with the text and purpose” of the privacy law and would have “severe unintended consequences that go far beyond the facts of this matter.”
In a statement, Rafael Frankel, Facebook’s director of south and southeast Asia policy, said the company had already made voluntary disclosures to investigators and plans to share more information with Gambia. “We support international efforts to bring accountability for atrocity crimes committed against the Rohingya people,” Frankel said.
The role of Facebook in the genocide in Myanmar is well established. A 2018 report commissioned by Facebook found that the platform was used to incite violence against the Rohingya. That August, Facebook banned 20 organizations and individuals in Myanmar, including a military commander. In a statement accompanying the report, a Facebook executive said, “We can and should do more.”
Myanmar is battling a plunging local currency amid an unprecedented dollar shortage, driving up the cost of imports and worsening the economy’s struggle with dual challenges of the pandemic and post-coup financial isolation.
The kyat has tumbled about 50% since the military seized power in February that triggered a freeze on parts of Myanmar’s foreign reserves held in the U.S. and suspension of multilateral aids — both key sources of foreign currency supplies. Restrictions on cash withdrawals have fueled worries about the safety of money in banks, prompting people to seek more widely used currencies such as the U.S or Singaporean dollars or Thai baht, analysts said.
The Central Bank of Myanmar’s efforts to quell the rush for dollars, including stepping up foreign currency supplies and ordering exporters to repatriate earnings within 30 days, have failed to stem the kyat’s slide. The currency may plunge further to 2,400 to a U.S. dollar by the end of this year and 3,200 by end-2022, according to Jason Yek, senior Asia country risk analyst at Fitch Solutions.
The currency sell-off is the latest crisis to hit the country that’s still grappling with street protests following the ouster of the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Nationwide Covid restrictions and a civil disobedience movement by Suu Kyi’s followers have hit normal economic activities, shrinking exports of everything from textiles to agricultural commodities, another source of foreign exchange.
“It is really hard to predict when this financial crisis will end,” said Khine Win, a public policy analyst focusing on economic governance in Myanmar. “Only the restoration of democracy and a legitimate government will unlock the international assistance Myanmar needs to address this crisis, but it’s really hard to see that happening.”
The plunging currency is already taking its toll on Myanmar’s economy, with some businesses shutting down as they are unable to cope with rising costs of imports and raw materials. The economy is estimated to have contracted 18.7% in the fiscal year ended on Sept. 30, according to the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office. While the official exchange rate for a dollar was at 1,965 kyat last week, local money managers were quoting 2,200-2,300 kyat, Fitch Solutions’ Yek said.
Though the central bank doesn’t divulge its foreign reserve levels, the recent slide in kyat suggests that “it has likely fallen to a precariously low level” after trying to prop up the currency for months, Yek said.
The currency volatility is expected to ease soon due to recent steps taken by the authorities and higher export earnings seen in November and December, Win Thaw, a deputy governor at the Central Bank of Myanmar, said Monday.
Myanmar’s reserves dwindled after the U.S. froze $1 billion held in the New York Federal Reserve days after the coup, while the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund suspended funding for projects. To preserve the foreign currencies onshore, authorities last month suspended imports of passenger cars and amended the forex law last week.
But putting more controls will further undermine investor confidence in Myanmar and exporters will find ways to keep hard currency offshore, said Vicky Bowman, director of Myanmar Center for Responsible Business.
“The fundamental cause for forex crunch is the collapse in investor confidence in Myanmar and the suspension of development assistance since February,” Bowman said. “Without a political solution which leads to the resumption of lending and restores confidence in the country, it will be difficult for the kyat to recover.”
Foreign direct investment into Myanmar had dwindled with multinational companies becoming increasingly wary of doing business with the military regime and some heading for the exit. Reversing that trend will be key to reversing the kyat’s fortunes.
“We don’t see any FDI coming in and the trend for kyat depreciation may prolong as long as the military remains in power,” Khine Win said. “This could drag more middle class people below the poverty line.”
Aye Nandar Soe was taken away on Sunday and her whereabouts are unknown
Activists say they fear for the life of a students’ union chairperson after she was detained by junta forces on Sunday afternoon while travelling on a long distance bus.
Aye Nandar Soe, 21, was stopped and arrested at the Yadanabon bridge connecting Mandalay and Sagaing regions. She leads the students’ union at the Sagaing University of Education, where she is in her fourth year of studies.
Her friends say her whereabouts are unknown and believe she was arrested because of her opposition to the military’s February coup. Her detention comes as the junta steps up its crackdown against student and youth activists across the country.
The junta has not made a public announcement about Aye Nandar Soe’s arrest or the grounds on which she is being detained. Many other student activists who were detained recently have been charged with incitement.
“Our comrade Aye Nandar Soe is being detained… but we still do not know where she is being held,” the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), of which Aye Nandar Soe’s union is a member, said in a statement.
“We fear for our comrade Aye Nandar Soe’s life and safety,” the statement said.
An ABFSU spokesperson said he had no information about where she was travelling when she was detained.
The military has stepped up arrests of anti-junta student activists in recent weeks, but the exact number detained is unknown, the spokesperson added.
“Many students from the ABFSU and other students’ unions were arrested, but the ones who were not will continue to revolt against the military,” he told Myanmar Now.
On Sunday three young activists, including two members of the ABFSU, were detained in Yangon and accused of being involved in bank robberies to fund armed resistance against the junta.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 1,122 people have now been killed by the junta and 6,698 others are in detention.
Nestled in the rocky lap of Vanzang Hill, Tlanglo was a tranquil village in Myanmar’s chin state until the country’s military regime perceived it as a potential threat.
The village became a target as it is located on the road to Htantalan town, the headquarters of the Chin National Front (CNF), an insurgent group that has been waging war against the military regime.
In April this year, barely two months after it staged a bloodless coup, the army ordered people of Tlanglo and four other neighbouring villages not to venture out. A night curfew was also imposed in these villages.
It was then that Suihleipari (14) and his family and a group of other Tlanglo villagers decided to sneak to India, moving westward through mountainous jungle tracks.
After about 50 kilometres of trekking they reached Farkawn village in Mizoram on the India-Myanmar border.
“The day we left the village, I thought it was the end of my dream of becoming a teacher. I never thought I would ever get a chance to study again,” Suihleipari said.
Four months after his escape from Myanmar, Suihleipari was posing for a photo decked up in school uniform, seeking to rebuild his life in a different country.
Admitted on humanitarian grounds
Suihleipari is among the 340 students from Myanmar who have been enrolled in various schools in Tuipuiral area of Champhai district where physical classes have resumed recently.
In other districts, where classes are still being conducted online, refugee children from Myanmar are taking classes with their Mizo counterparts through mobile phones from their relief camps set up across bordering districts.
Their headcount is yet to be done.
The enrolment followed the Mizoram government’s August 31 directive to all district education officers and sub-divisional education officers to admit Myanmarese children in local schools.
Mizoram education minister Lalchhandama Ralte said the decision was taken “purely on humanitarian grounds” in accordance with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act.
“Children aged between 6 and 14 years belonging to disadvantaged communities have the right to be admitted to school in a class appropriate to his or her age for completing elementary education,” says the education department’s circular sent to district officials.
“I like my new school. I am enjoying my lessons. Teachers here are very good. I would like to thank the Mizoram government for allowing us to attend schools,” Suihleipari said.
He got admission in Class 9 in Government Thanchhuma High School in Farkawn village.
PC Zirthanpuia, a teacher of the school, said that all the Myanmarese students, including Suihleipari, are “very determined to fully utilise the opportunity” they got to study again.
The refugee students are also provided books and uniform from the government, the teacher said.
Of the 340 students accommodated in different schools in 21 villages in Champhai district, 194 are enrolled in the primary section, 118 in the middle schools and 14 in the high schools. Besides 14 children are studying in the pre-primary section.
Refugees flow in
Zirthanpuia said the number of refugee students might go up in the bordering district as there has been a fresh influx from across the border following recent reports of escalation of violence in Myanmar.
Already over 20,000 refugees, including chief minister of Chin state Salai Lian Luai and over a dozen legislators, have taken shelter in bordering districts of Hnahthial, Champhai, Lunglei and Lawngtlai and other parts of Mizoram since the military junta dislodged the democratically elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1.
It is difficult to ascertain the exact number as many refugees are left unrecorded as they are living with their families on this part of the border, said state planning board vice chairman H Rammawi, who is closely dealing with the refugee problem.
Lalnunpuia Changthu, a resident of Cherhlun village in Lunglei district, said there has been a fresh spurt in influx of refugees since September 10.
He said many villagers from Myanmar even came in small boats crossing Tiau river.
The Young Mizo Association (YMA) and local villagers are now constructing additional relief camps for the new entrants, Changthu said.
Myanmar is witnessing a renewed spurt in violence since the National Unity Government (NUG) and the People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) called for an armed resistance to the military regime in early September.
The NUG is a shadow underground government formed by a group of elected lawmakers and members of parliament ousted in the coup. The PDFs were formed by common people as resistance groups to defend the junta’s offensives against civilians.
Many ethnic insurgent groups such as the CNF have allied with the NUG to “topple” the military regime.
The CNF’s armed wing, the Chin National Army (CNA), and the volunteers of the Chinland Defence Force (CDF) formed by civilians overran a military outpost at Chin state’s Thantlang near Myanmar’s border with India, killing 12 junta soldiers, on September 10, according to media reports in Myanmar.
Nearly all the 8,000 residents of the mountaintop town of Thantlang in Chin State have fled after junta forces retaliated with vengeance, randomly opening fire on the residential area using heavy weapons and explosives, burning down several houses, reported Burmese website, the Irrawaddy.
The clash triggered a fresh influx of refugees from Myanmar to Mizoram, prompting the state chief minister Zoramthanga to prod the Centre to provide humanitarian assistance to Myanmar nationals.
Mizoram’s lone Lok Sabha member C Lalrosanga and OSD to chief minister Rosangzuala met Union home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla and Intelligence Bureau (IB) director Arvind Kumar in New Delhi on September 22 to apprise them of the “humanitarian crisis” and sought aids for the refugees, according to a Mizoram government communiqué.
Urgent action needed: UN
Since the coup, more than 1,120 people have been killed, a UN human rights report said on Thursday (September 23). The report said military authorities have also arrested over 8,000 people, and at least 120 have reportedly died in custody.
Urgent action is needed to prevent the situation in Myanmar from escalating into a “full-blown conflict”, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned in her report presented at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“The murder of a Baptist minister and bombing of homes in Thantlang, Chin State are the latest examples of the living hell being delivered daily by junta forces against the people of Myanmar. The world needs to pay closer attention. More importantly, the world needs to act,” said UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews in a tweet.
Earlier a Human Rights Watch report said: “The junta has arbitrarily detained thousands of protesters, activists, journalists, lawyers, doctors and nurses. Many have been tortured, while all risk falling ill with COVID-19 in the country’s squalid and already overcrowded prisons.”
“The junta has shut down hospitals and targeted medical professionals, leading to a collapse of the health system as COVID-19 surges across the country. They have arrested journalists reporting on the crackdown, closed independent media and effectively shut down the internet and phone service after almost daily images appeared showing soldiers and police firing into peaceful crowds,” the report added.
Global leaders and international organisations need to play a more active role to compel Myanmar to make arrangements for the Rohingyas to return
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has called on the international community including the UK to take concrete actions for creation of a conducive environment in Myanmar for sustainable return of Rohingyas to their homeland in Rakhine State.
Lord Ahmad, the British State Minister for Foreign Affairs for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth met the Foreign Minister at the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh in New York recently and discussed various issues including the Rohingya crisis.
In the meeting, the issue of climate change was also discussed.
Foreign Minister Momen suggested that Bangladesh as the President of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) and the UK as the President of COP26 might jointly hold an event on the sidelines of COP26 in Glasgow.
Foreign Minister Momen also apprised Lord Ahmad of the steps taken by Bangladesh in the area of mitigation and adaptation.
He suggested that the private sector of the UK could invest in different environment-friendly projects in Bangladesh, including in electrification of the conventional railway.
Lord Ahmad appreciated the proactive leadership role of Bangladesh in the area of climate change.
In his first comment on the military coup in Myanmar, Indian Army Chief General MM Naravane on Wednesday asserted that India wants a “stable” Myanmar.
During a virtual conference on the role of the Indian Army in dealing with the contemporary national security challenges, Naravane said that Myanmar is the bridge between India and the rest of South Asian countries.
“Myanmar plays a key role in India’s foreign policy. It is the bridge between India and the rest of South Asia and therefore we want a stable neighbour and a stable Myanmar. I think the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has already stated the country’s position in this regard that – we support the process for transition to democracy and that is what we should be looking forward to,” he said.
The Army Chief also recalled the Myanmar Army’s role in the fight against insurgency along Indian borders in north-east states.
“As far military to military level interaction is concerned, we share a good repo especially on the border, where we conversate quite often. Over the last two years, we had a number of co-ordinated operations in border areas along Nagaland and Manipur. Myanmar Army has carried out operations in flushing out various Indian insurgent groups, who were taking temporary shelters across the borders. As a result of that, a large number of insurgent groups surrender took place,” he said.
On February 1, Myanmar’s military overthrew the government and declared a year-long state of emergency hours before the newly-elected parliament was due to convene. State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, along with other top officials accused of election fraud, have been placed under house arrest.
KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian court has allowed a temporary stay of deportation of 1,200 Myanmar nationals scheduled to be sent back to their strife-torn homeland on Tuesday, after rights groups said the plan could endanger their lives.
The 1,200 detainees were set to leave on Tuesday afternoon in three navy ships sent by Myanmar’s military, which seized power in a Feb. 1 coup, sparking weeks of protests from pro-democracy activists.
Just before the court issued its order, the migrants were bussed in from across the country to the naval base at Lumut in western Malaysia where the Myanmar ships are docked.
Refugee groups say asylum seekers from the minority Chin, Kachin and non-Rohingya Muslim communities fleeing conflict and persecution at home are among those being deported.
Amnesty International, which with Asylum Access had asked the courts to stop the deportation, said the high court granted a stay until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, when it will hear the groups’ application for judicial review to suspend the deportation.
“It’s important to note that the stay of execution granted by the court does not mean the 1,200 are safe from being deported,” said Katrina Maliamauv, Amnesty Malaysia director.
“We urge the government to reconsider its plans to send this group of vulnerable people back to Myanmar, where human rights violations are currently dangerously high,” she said.
Amnesty has said among the deportees were three people registered with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and 17 minors who have at least one parent in Malaysia.
Spokespeople for Malaysia’s immigration department and foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the court order.
Malaysia has said it would not deport Rohingya Muslims or refugees registered with UNHCR. But the UN refugee agency has said there are at least six people registered with it that are also set to be deported and that there could be more. It has not been allowed access to the deportees.
Malaysia has not responded publicly to critics or Reuters queries over the deportation of the asylum seekers and those registered with UNHCR.
Concerns over deportation of unregistered asylum-seekers persist, as UNHCR has not been allowed to interview detainees for over a year to verify their status. The Southeast Asian nation is home to more than 154,000 asylum-seekers from Myanmar.
The United States and other Western missions have been trying to dissuade Malaysia from proceeding with the deportation and urged the government to allow UNHCR to interview the detainees. They also say Malaysia is legitimising the military government by cooperating with the junta.
Myanmar’s military leadership has been warned it faces European Union sanctions after replacing the government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The EU also announced additional measures against Russia in response to the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
The bloc’s foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels on Monday to discuss a packed agenda including a videoconference with the new U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Shortly after starting, the group issued a statement on Myanmar, saying: “The EU stands ready to adopt restrictive measures targeting those directly responsible.”
“In line with our global policies, we’ve removed the Tatmadaw True News Information Team Page from Facebook for repeated violations of our Community Standards prohibiting incitement of violence and coordinating harm,” a Facebook representative said in a statement.
A Facebook page run by the Myanmar junta’s “True News” information service was kicked off the platform Sunday after the tech giant accused it of inciting violence.
Security forces in the country have steadily increased violence against a massive and largely peaceful civil disobedience campaign demanding the return of deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Nobel laureate was taken into custody along with her top political allies at the start of the month, but the new regime has insisted it took power lawfully.
It has used Facebook to claim Suu Kyi’s landslide election victory last November was tainted by voter fraud and issue stark warnings to the protest movement — which is demanding that the army relinquish power.
A spokesperson for the platform said the Tatmadaw True News Information Team page was removed for “repeated violations of our Community Standards prohibiting incitement of violence and coordinating harm”.
The social media giant has banned hundreds of army-linked pages in recent years after being criticised for its ineffective response to malicious posts in the country.
Much of the content targeted the country’s stateless Rohingya Muslim minority, around 750,000 of whom fled into neighbouring Bangladesh after an army crackdown in 2017.