Myanmar Bans Latest Issue of 'Time'
The government of Myanmar has banned the current international issue of Time magazine after a wave of local uproar over its cover story featuring controversial Burmese Buddhist monk Wirathu under the headline, "The Face of Buddhist Terror."
Wirathu is the leader of the radical Buddhist 969 group that has sought to marginalize the country's Muslim ethnic minority on grounds that they are not true Burmese and threaten the country's racial purity and security. The 969s have called for boycotts of Muslim-owned businesses, restrictions on the reproductive rights of Muslims and bans on Buddhist-Muslim marriages.
State television announced late Tuesday that the government had banned the Time magazine issue "to prevent the recurrence of racial and religious riots." Ye Htut, President Thein Sein's spokesperson, said on his official Facebook page that the current Time issue “would not be sold and distributed to prevent the recurrence of racial and religious conflict.”
The 969 movement has been linked to a series of deadly incidents in Myanmar, such as raids on Muslim communities and the burning of mosques, homes and Muslim-owned businesses. Nearly 250 people -- almost all Muslims -- have died in the clashes over the past year, and an estimated 140,000 have been displaced after fleeing their homes in the regions hardest hit by the religious violence.
The Time cover story quotes Wirathu as saying: "Now is the time to rise up, to make your blood boil." The monk has since spoken out against the piece and insisted that he is a man of peace.
Free-speech rights in Myanmar have rapidly improved since President Thein Sein came to power two years ago and began instituting wide-ranging economic and political reforms, much needed after decades of authoritarian military rule. Once rigorously censored, the country's local media and entertainment sectors are now able to operate with a large degree of autonomy. Media outlets no longer need to get prior approval of their stories from government authorities and in March the Associated Press became the first international news agency in decades to open a permanent bureau in the country. Filmmakers are still required to get approval of projects from the national censorship board, but industry figures have been invited to serve on the once military-only oversight body, and the censorship criteria is understood to have been significantly relaxed.
According to analysts, however, the Muslim minority has been almost entirely left out of the process of reform. While the ethnic Burmese majority now enjoys new political and economic freedoms, discussion of the Muslim population's plight in the press is rare to nonexistent. Some worry the government's response to the Time article, and tacit support of Wirathu and his ilk, could embolden the radical Buddhists and further disenfranchise and endanger Muslim communities.