In a statement last week, the army -- known locally as the Tatmadaw -- said it would “take action” against anyone who accused them of the murders after the results of an “ongoing investigation” were released.
The bodies of two volunteer teachers – Maran Lu Ra, 19, and Tangbau Khawn Nan Tsin, 20 – were found Jan. 20 in the northern state of Kachin, where ethnic rebels are at war with government troops.
Local campaigners say the women were raped, then stabbed and beaten to death by soldiers from the Tatmadaw, which has been accused of using rape as a weapon of war for decades.
“The Myanmar military is increasingly using the justice system as a tool to silence critics,” Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, said in a press release Tuesday. “The authorities should ensure swift justice for misconduct by soldiers rather than shielding them from public scrutiny and accountability.”
The Tatmadaw is already prosecuting a Kachin man because he accused them of murdering his 14-year-old daughter. Brang Shawng, 49, faces at least two years in prison for making “false charges”.
The day after the military’s statement, a spokesperson for President Thein Sein told local media they too could face legal action if they allege military responsibility for the killings.
Although media reforms have given Myanmar’s journalists unprecedented freedoms since 2012, critical reporting on the military remains dangerous.
Last year, five journalists were jailed for ten years – later reduced to seven – with hard labor for writing an expose on an alleged chemical weapons factory.
In October, a freelance journalist covering another ethnic conflict in the east of the country was killed by the military. Officials claim he was shot while trying to escape but activists and rights groups are convinced he was tortured and murdered.
Several other journalists and their colleagues have been sued by the government in the last year for critical reports, including an interview in which Thein Sein’s public speeches were described as “insane”.
“The authorities need to understand they can’t punish critics just because they don’t like what they have to say,” Smith said.