Activists for the Rohingya and Jonathan Head, a correspondent for the BBC, revealed that the photos are not quite what they seem. Head was part of a group of local and foreign journalists that were invited on a government-organised trip to Maungdaw, a town in Buddhist-majority Rakhine state in the west of the country. Government officials distributed these photos to the journalists, saying that they showed the Rohingya burning their own homes in order to frame the Burmese government. But the photos were posed, as was soon discovered by Head and other journalists.
These photos were also posted on the Facebook group Rohingya Community, which posts news about the situation for Rohingya in the country. They wrote a post explaining why the photos were fake [we have edited it for clarity].
Note the white caps the men actors are wearing. Those caps are totally new. Rohingya people aren’t wearing caps in these moments of life or death. And even if they wore Islamic caps, they wouldn’t be as clean and shiny as in those photos.
The women in the photos tried to resemble real Rohingya women by wearing hijab. But Rohingya women never wear hijab that way at all. It is very clear that they do not even know how to wear a piece of cloth on their heads.
The men in the photos are hiding their faces under masks [bandanas].
None of them are facing the camera to hide their real faces.
Most of all: why on earth would someone be so foolish as to document his crime by letting a cameraman take shots from all angles?
The truth: This was the house of a real Rohingya family. Most probably some of the family members were killed and others managed to flee. Later these actors (Buddhists) came to change the scenario of the reality.
“The women are wearing tablecloths on their heads”
In a Facebook post and an article, Head confirms this analysis, and picks up on other details that serve to further indict the Burmese government.
One of the women who appears in the photos torching a home is wearing a distinctive bright orange top, a grey and purple longyi, and a white lacy headscarf. Photos show that this same woman, minus the headscarf, spoke to the journalists at a school in Maungdaw that was serving as a shelter for displaced Hindu families. She told the journalists about Muslim abuse against Hindus.
Amongst other actors, she was used by the government to pose as a Muslim militant torching houses, and also to speak persuasively to a troupe of journalists about Muslim-perpetrated violence.
In a Facebook post that has been shared 2,400 times, Head wrote: “I realise now that among Hindus arranged by the government to be filmed and interviewed on Sept 6 in Maungdaw were two people who dressed up as Muslims for the fake photos given to us there." He said that the “acting” in the photos was “unconvincing”, and “the women are wearing tablecloths on their heads”.
According to the Burmese government, the violent crackdown in the country is in response to attacks by militants from the rebel group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). Authorities also deny that the military has targeted Rohingya civilians. More than 300,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled across the border to Bangladesh since August 25.
In an address to the UN Human Rights Council on September 11, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called the military operation by the Burmese government a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.