Myan­mar ac­cuses news­pa­per of con­tempt


Myan­mar’s In­for­ma­tion Min­istry has filed a con­tempt of court com­plaint against the pub­lisher and 16 ed­i­to­rial em­ploy­ees of a news­pa­per it is al­ready su­ing for defama­tion, an ac­tion crit­ics charge is an at­tempt at in­tim­i­da­tion ahead of elec­tions set for later this year.

The editor-in-chief of the Daily Eleven news­pa­per, Wai Phyo, said Fri­day the min­istry ac­cused the news­pa­per of re­port­ing un­fairly on the defama­tion case.

He and three other ex­ec­u­tives of the news­pa­per are on trial for defama­tion af­ter be­ing sued by the min­istry over a re­port al­leg­ing ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in its pur­chase of a print­ing press.

Ear­lier this week, the hu­man rights group Amnesty In­ter­na­tional ac­cused Myan­mar’s gov­ern­ment of us­ing threats and ha­rass­ment to in­tim­i­date the media ahead of the polls. The Lon­don-based group said ef­forts to re­strict free­dom of ex­pres­sion have in­ten­si­fied over the past year, with at least 10 media work­ers now be­ing held in prison, all of them jailed in the last 12 months.

The Daily Eleven, tak­ing ad­van­tage of new press free­doms af­ter a mil­i­tary regime was re­placed by a civil­ian elected gov­ern­ment in 2011, has pub­lished a se­ries of sto­ries on al­leged cor­rup­tion, abuse of power and in­ef­fi­ciency in the ju­di­cial sys­tem.

The new com­plaint by the In­for­ma­tion Min­istry’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor says the news­pa­per’s re­port­ing on his tes­ti­mony in March at the defama­tion trial could un­fairly prej­u­dice the judges in its fa­vor. Dis­sem­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion that could in­ter­fere or dis­turb a trial, or af­fect its fair­ness, is pun­ish­able by up to six months in jail. Defama­tion car­ries a penalty of up to two years in prison.

Aung Thein, a prom­i­nent lawyer who was charged with con­tempt of court un­der mil­i­tary rule, said he could not com­pre­hend how such a large group of peo­ple could face con­tempt charges.

“This in­di­cates that the gov­ern­ment wants to pres­sure the media be­fore elec­tions,” he said.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional said author­i­ties of­ten drag the media through lengthy and costly le­gal pro­cesses, or seek col­lec­tive pun­ish­ment in re­sponse to one crit­i­cal story by pros­e­cut­ing sev­eral peo­ple from the same out­let to ef­fec­tively shut it down.

The In­for­ma­tion Min­istry last year sued 11 staff mem­bers of the Myan­mar Her­ald weekly jour­nal for print­ing an ar­ti­cle re­fer­ring to Pres­i­dent Thein Sein as a fool.

“This is the first time in news­pa­per history that such a large group of news­pa­per men were sum­moned to court,” vet­eran jour­nal­ist Khin Maung Lay, who was jailed sev­eral times by the mil­i­tary, said about the ac­tion against Daily Eleven. “This is done with vengeance and it is a very bad prece­dent.”


Dr. Than Htut Aung, CEO of Eleven Media Group, talks to jour­nal­ists dur­ing a press brief­ing on the con­tempt of court com­plaint against the pub­lisher and ed­i­to­rial em­ploy­ees of the Daily Eleven news­pa­per filed by Myan­mar’s In­for­ma­tion Min­istry and op­pres­sion of the media be­fore the elec­tion set for later this year, at a ho­tel in Yan­gon, Myan­mar on Satur­day, June 20.

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