Despite five months of endless state terror, it is still “business as usual.” Despite hundreds of deaths and thousands of arrests, despite the nearly 50 journalists currently held in Myanmar’s prisons, and despite frequent mobile network and Internet cuts, dozens of foreign companies based in Myanmar are still directly or indirectly financing the junta and its ruthless suppression of pro-democracy protests.
In letters sent today to 12 of these companies about the responsibility they share for what is taking place in Myanmar, RSF asks them to take concrete measures to address this issue. In particular, RSF asks them to:
- Withdraw from Myanmar in the short or medium term;
- Suspend their activities in Myanmar for as long as the junta continues to persecute the pro-democracy movement and press freedom;
- And to the companies that use the argument that they would be breaking the law if they stopped paying the taxes and dividends they owe to the state and their partners in Myanmar, RSF says they should place this money in an escrow account so that it can eventually go to Myanmar’s people and not to the military government that seized power in a coup in February.
These letters follow up the initial series of letters that RSF sent to the same companies in April calling on them to clarify their position on the situation in Myanmar.
Accomplices to terror
“Mealy-mouthed excuses are no longer acceptable after the horror to which the junta has subjected Myanmar’s people for the past five months,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “For the most part, it is the multinational companies operating in Myanmar that are funding this horror. The alternatives are clear: either they take steps to pull out or to block their assets in order to stop feeding foreign currency to the junta, or they carry on doing business and go down in history as accomplices to this regime of terror.”
In their replies to RSF’s first letter, most of these companies claimed that they had no direct business dealings with the junta. But this argument is irrelevant in Myanmar’s current economic context. The armed forces manage two business conglomerates – Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited (MEC) – with ramifications throughout most of the country’s economy. Most of the foreign companies operating in Myanmar have to go through them.
All this is compounded by the role played by many oligarchs, who have forged business links with foreign corporations while still continuing to channel money into the military government’s coffers.
In practice, it is impossible in this system for any foreign company to continue its activities in Myanmar without a well-founded suspicion that it is financing the junta and its constant crimes.
86 journalists have been arrested in Myanmar since the 1 February coup and at least 42 of them are still being held, despite today’s reported release of six of them.
Myanmar is ranked 140th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.