HONG KONG — Myanmar has detained four border police officers after a video surfaced online that appears to show two of them beating unarmed men in the restive border state of Rakhine, putting more pressure on the government to address tensions there between the authorities and the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority.
The video was posted to Facebook on Saturday and seems to show officers with military-grade weapons kicking or whipping two unarmed men who are seen cowering on the ground in a village, as another officer looks on passively with a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
The release of the video comes at a sensitive time for Myanmar’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. A Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former political prisoner, she has faced heavy international criticism in recent months for what many human rights advocates see as her failure to respond more forcefully to the state-sanctioned violence in Rakhine State.
On Sunday, after the video became public, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s office said in a statement that the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Myanmar Police Force had detained four officers in connection with the incident, adding that they “will be punished.”
The statement said two of the four detained officers, Pyae Phyo Thwin and Tay Zar Lin, had conducted the beating. It said the third detained officer was a supervisor, Maj. Ye Htun Naing, a member of the Border Guard Police Force. Two other officers who appear to be joining in the violence on the video were not identified.
The statement said the fourth detained officer, Zaw Myo Htike, had recorded the images during what it described as a clearance operation in the village of Koe Tan Kauk on Nov. 5. The village is in Rathedaung Township, near Maungdaw Township, the site of much of the recent violence against the Rohingya. The population in both townships is mostly Muslim.
The government has “time and again stressed the need to be careful with each and every action, to make sure there is no violation of human rights and to act in line with the law,” U Zaw Htay, a government spokesman, told reporters on Sunday in Naypyidaw, the capital.
The Rohingya have been persecuted for decades. The government refuses to grant them citizenship, even though some of their families have lived in the country for generations, and many people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar call them “Bengali.”
Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh, has been on edge since October, when nine border guards were killed in an attack there and the authorities began what they call a counterinsurgency campaign that has mainly targeted Rohingya civilians. Human rights activists say that the scale of the campaign has been disproportionate to the threat and that hundreds of Rohingya have died in operations that have included rapes and killings in their villages.
The United Nations said in late November that at least 10,000 Rohingya had fled Rakhine for neighboring Bangladesh since the October attacks. The Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that about 50,000 “Myanmar citizens” had taken shelter in Bangladesh over the same time period, referring to the Rohingya.
Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, called for a transparent investigation of the incident and said that the government’s response would test its commitment to the rule of law.
“What’s particularly striking is the impunity that these local officers apparently felt, making them so at ease that they didn’t hesitate to film the abuses they were inflicting,” Mr. Robertson said in an email on Tuesday. “If the police feel so immune that they film themselves committing such brutal beatings, one wonders what other horrors might be taking place off camera that they were not willing to record.”
But on social media, some people in Myanmar, including journalists, said that the authorities’ handling of the police was unfair. They said the detained officers should not be punished.
“Bengali deserve to be beaten because they are not from our country,” one user wrote.
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