Myanmar has banned a controversial Time magazine cover story on Buddhist-Muslim religious violence “to prevent further conflict”, according to a government spokesman, after days of angry reaction to the article.
The ban of the piece, which carried a front page photograph of a prominent radical Buddhist monk accused of fuelling anti-Muslim violence with the headline ‘The Face of Buddhist Terror’, came late Tuesday despite the apparent easing of censorship rules in a reforming nation whose former military regime closely controlled the media.
Government spokesman Ye Htut posted news of the ban on his Facebook page, attributing the decision to a committee investigating deadly religious violence that has rocked the country as it undergoes democratic reforms.
It was unclear how the front cover and accompanying article will be censored in print and online. Under the junta articles deemed inflammatory or dissenting were often torn from newspapers and magazines or inked out altogether.
Social media users in the former junta-ruled nation have voiced dismay at the front page, which shows a photograph of Mandalay monk Wirathu, whose anti-Muslim remarks have come under scrutiny following a wave of deadly religious violence.
The presidential office on Sunday said it “creates a misunderstanding of Buddhism” and undercut efforts to dampen tensions after two major bouts of violence in which scores have died — mainly Muslims — and thousands been driven from their homes by mobs.
The use of the words “Buddhist” and “Terror” in the article upset all followers of the faith, which is peaceful “and not for terrorists,” a message accompanying an online petition which had garnered more than 60,000 names said late Tuesday.
Eye-witnesses to violence which flared in March in central Myanmar said people dressed in monks’ robes were involved in the unrest.
Radical monks have led a campaign to shun shops owned by Muslims. Wirathu has also called for a law to restrict marriages between Buddhist women and men of other faiths.
Senior monks, however, have accused foreign media of one-sided reporting of the Buddhist-Muslim conflict.
Several episodes of religious fighting have exposed deep rifts in the Buddhist-majority country and cast a shadow over widely praised political reforms since military rule ended two years ago.
In March at least 44 people were killed in sectarian strife in central Myanmar with thousands of homes set ablaze.
Communal unrest last year in the western state of Rakhine left about 200 people dead and up to 140,000 displaced, mainly Rohingya Muslims.