Ordinarily, I would welcome comments on my work by highly regarded counter-proliferation policy commentators such as Jeffrey Lewis and Catherine Dill, whose work I have read on Arms Control Wonk. Indeed, they have devoted much time to the Unity Journal allegations and I could apologise for not citing their commentaries alongside those by Andrew Selth and John Arterbury.

The authors are usually attentive to the small details, which lends a particular authority to their analyses. It is therefore unfortunate that they appear to have misread and misinterpreted the post they have spent so much effort rebutting. Sadly, this makes their rebuttal misleading and inaccurate.

My initial post focused mostly on the legality of the Unity Journal reporters' actions in the context of media freedom in Myanmar. And their guilt was not really in question: In their own article, they admitted to knowing that they were trespassing on a military site, and their editor later admitted to trespassing in an interview. But the authors are likely aware of this, as they are surely basing their analyses and comments on the original Unity article rather than subsequent second-hand reporting.

Still, I am surprised by the accusation that I supported any of the journalists doing 'hard time', that 'brutal sentences' were justified in cases of poor journalism or even for trespassing, or that 'press protections only apply to good journalism', since I never actually wrote any of this. In fact, I noted that the punishments were severe and not comparable with responses internationally. My follow-up post reiterated and added context to this point.

A careful reading of both of my posts shows this.

As I previously stated, I accept that the claims about the site in question may be true, but maintain the Unity Journal article did nothing to prove this, even if it did draw international attention. And there is also no dispute that the harsh sentences were due to Unity Journal reporting about (and trespassing on) a defence facility, a point I initially noted and which we seem to agree on.

The Lewis-Dill rebuttal seems to give some credibility to the sources used by the Unity Journal reporters, namely the local residents who had their land confiscated. But there is no assessment of whether their bitterness at losing land (again, not in dispute) may have influenced the allegations. Moreover, I'm sure Lewis and Dill would agree that while the locals (much like satellite imagery) can confirm that a building or site exists, this is very different from having first-hand knowledge of what is actually going on inside. If anything, their rebuttal supports my original argument that critical analysis of this article is still needed.

It is disappointing that discussions of important issues relating to Myanmar, especially those involving human rights, quickly fall prey to emotion, and personal criticisms soon take the place of an objective analysis of the facts. Too often, the argument is over what was thought to have been said, rather than what was actually said.

Regrettably, the Lewis-Dill rebuttal is a case of the former, not the latter.