Human rights monitors have raised concerns about press freedom in Myanmar after a journalist at an English-language newspaper said she was fired following government criticism of her reporting of allegations of rape by soldiers.
Violence in the north of troubled Rakhine State, which began with deadly attacks on border police posts on Oct. 9, has sparked the biggest crisis of de facto Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's seven months in power.
Troops poured into the region after the attacks, which the government says were carried out by minority Rohingya Muslims with links to militant Islamists overseas.
The military operation has sharpened the tension between Suu Kyi's civilian administration and the army, which ruled the country for decades and retains key powers, including control of ministries responsible for security.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said reporters trying to cover the unrest in Rakhine faced obstruction and harassment.
Authorities have not allowed foreign journalists to visit the area and the international media was not invited to travel with senior diplomats who visited this week, even as state media obtained full access.
Reuters also reported on the allegations, interviewing eight women who said they were raped by troops.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay complained about the report and singled out Myanmar Times special investigations editor Fiona MacGregor for criticism on his Facebook page.
Days later MacGregor was told by the newspaper's senior management that she was being fired for damaging the paper's reputation, she told Reuters on Friday.
"It's extremely concerning and unacceptable that representatives of the democratically elected government would use social media and bullying tactics to suppress stories about important issues like gender-based violence in conflict," said MacGregor.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia, said the case marked "a new low" for the government.
"Rather than trying to shut down reports that it doesn't like, the government should respect press freedom and permit journalists to do their jobs by investigating what is really happening on the ground," said Robertson.
Suu Kyi's government should "assert civilian control over its security forces", Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative, said in a statement.
"The best way to prove or disprove allegations of rights abuses is to allow independent media to probe the accusations."
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