RANGOON — Ye Htut, Burma’s deputy minister for information and the presidential spokesman, has posted an apology note on Facebook after a storm of criticism followed his wife’s posting of a Photoshopped image of Aung San Suu Kyi in Islamic garb this week.
The post, of Suu Kyi wearing a hijab and being crowned with a tiara as “Woman of the Week,” criticized the opposition leader for her push to amend Burma’s Constitution and was shared widely on Facebook, with the minister’s wife, Khin Sandar Tun, among those who shared the picture.
Another post, urging people to speak out against a rumored plan to teach all of the world’s major religions in school, was also shared by his wife.
The altered image is particularly sensitive in Burma, where rising anti-Islamic sentiment has accompanied political reforms over the last few years that have included greater freedom of speech. That has coincided with rising use of social media sites like Facebook, which has been blamed for at times fanning the flames of interreligious tension by spreading false rumors and hate speech.
After screenshots of her post were spread by other Facebook users, Khin Sandar Tun deleted her Facebook account, as online criticism mounted that the behavior of the deputy minister’s wife was unbecoming and threatened to stir up greater religious conflict.
One Facebook user named Demo Fatty wrote: “They simply have shown that they have a discriminating mind on different religions and races. By sharing that post, it shows the discrimination and taunting of the Muslim women. People with this kind of shallow point of view will also do the same thing to Christians or whoever, for they always think those who are different from themselves are lower than them.”
Another comment, posted by Win Min Than, said: “There are many like the minister’s wife, who are acting the same on Facebook. Thanks to Facebook, we now know their minds and their quality.”
After a few hours of back and forth among the Burmese Facebook community, Ye Htut—who has earned the nickname “Facebook minister” for his frequent use of the social media site—posted an apology on his Facebook account, saying it was his responsibility to control his wife’s behavior when it came to sharing such posts.
The minister opens the apology saying: “There are ethics to using Facebook. We have to take care with the posts that we ‘like’ and share, for there may be hateful posts and defamation. The posts we write on our own should not be those that spread hate speech or personal attacks.
“As a responsible person of the government and as the head of the house, I have the responsibility to teach my family members to behave accordingly, to the standard that the majority of the people are upholding,” he continued.
“Apologies to those who respect and support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and to those who visit my Facebook for my failure.”
The minister also included in his apology note that he had urged his wife to delete the posts as they were a breach of democratic standards and social media ethics.
The comment wars on Facebook have continued, with some accepting the apology as sincere, while others have accused the minister of masking his true sentiment with talk of democratic ideals.
“[I] respect the action of the minister for daring to take responsibility and apologizing, but she should think before making a mistake. Being the wife of a minister for information but having a low level of knowledge is a shame,” wrote one user, Ney Lin.
Another, who goes by the Facebook name Khet Oo, wrote: “Just think. Who is the most scornful? The wife of U Ye Htut, who acted out of ignorance, or U Ye Htut himself, who pretends to be a democrat and full of ethics by using fake words.”