NEW YORK—The discontinuation of Radio Free Asia’s broadcasting in Myanmar on a domestic channel constitutes a further shrinking of the space for free expression in the country, PEN America said in a statement today.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) announced June 11 that it would end its partnership with DVB Media Group, which had been carrying RFA broadcasts since late 2017, due to pressure on DVB Media Group from the government surrounding the use of the term “Rohingya” to describe the oppressed Muslim minority. The Myanmar government does not recognize the Rohingya people as an ethnic minority, and denies them access to citizenship and many basic services, such as education and healthcare. Many people in Myanmar refuse to acknowledge the Rohingya as a native people, instead referring to them as “Bengali” to imply that they are illegal migrants from nearby Bangladesh. Since the government launched a violent counterinsurgency campaign in late August 2017 in northern Rakhine State, where most Rohingya live, approximately 700,000 people have been forced to flee into neighboring Bangladesh.

“Forbidding media outlets from using the word Rohingya to describe this community is an outrageous attempt to further erase the identity and existence of the Rohingya people,” said Thomas O. Melia, PEN America Washington Director. “The authorities in Myanmar are resorting to a bizarre and heavy-handed Orwellian approach as they seek to control the narrative of their crackdown on the Rohingya by banning everyday language. Moreover, they are restricting media access to conflict areas and imprisoning journalists for reporting accurately on atrocities committed by the military against Rohingya. We call on the government to allow free and independent reporting by both local and international news outlets, including broadcasting by Radio Free Asia and its highly regarded Burma service.”

RFA, funded by the U.S. government and governed by an independent board, will continue to be available within Myanmar via the Internet and social media channels, as well as short wave radio. Its closure on broadcast channels comes just as imprisoned Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo mark six months behind bars for their attempts to cover a massacre of Rohingya villagers in Rakhine State. On May 22, PEN America honored Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo with its 2018 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, in recognition of the worrying decline in free expression in Myanmar over the past year and the risks it poses to journalists’ ability to cover critical and sensitive news stories.broadcast


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: [email protected]