Ac­tions against the press in 2018

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Mark Inkey

In the most high pro­file case against jour­nal­ists in 2018 the Reuters jour­nal­ists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were pros­e­cuted and sen­tenced to seven years im­pris­on­ment with hard labour on 3 Septem­ber 2018 for break­ing the Of­fi­cial Se­crets Act.

The two reporters had been work­ing on a story about the killing of Rohingyas by Myan­mar Army sol­diers.

Rather than be­ing sen­tenced un­der Sec­tion 66(d) of the Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions law, which un­til this year was the law most jour­nal­ists were pros­e­cuted un­der, the two jour­nal­ists were sen­tenced un­der the colo­nial-era law. The im­par­tial­ity of the court was brought into ques­tion by many ob­servers as the men were still con­victed de­spite ev­i­dence and wit­ness tes­ti­mony show­ing that they had been set up by the po­lice.

Dan Chugg, the Bri­tish am­bas­sador to Myan­mar re­cently said of the con­vic­tions: “Free­dom of ex­pres­sion and rule of law are fun­da­men­tal in a democ­racy, and this case has passed a long shadow over both to­day. The judge has ap­peared to have ig­nored ev­i­dence and to have ig­nored Myan­mar law. This has dealt a ham­mer blow for the rule of law.”

De­spite Aung San Suu Kyi’s protes­ta­tions that the Rule of Law had been prop­erly fol­lowed it was clear to all ob­servers and other jour­nal­ists that the pair had been pros­e­cuted be­cause the army did not want their il­le­gal ac­tions to be ex­posed to the pub­lic. This has cre­ated an even greater cli­mate of fear and self-cen­sor­ship among jour­nal­ists.

Those fears had been re­in­forced ear­lier in the year when the Myan­mar Army Com­man­der-in-Chief, Min Aung Hlaing, gave jour­nal­ists the chill­ing warn­ing “to think twice be­fore writ­ing or pub­lish­ing about the Tat­madaw” dur­ing a speech he gave on Armed Forces Day, 27 March 2018.

Other no­table prose­cu­tions of jour­nal­ists in 2018 have in­cluded Ngar Min Swe who was pros­e­cuted un­der the law on sedi­tion, an­other ob­scure colo­nial law and sen­tenced to seven years im­pris­on­ment two weeks af­ter the Reuters jour­nal­ists were sen­tenced.

Pre­vi­ously he used to write for the pro-govern­ment, state-funded news­pa­per Global New Light of Myan­mar. He was pros­e­cuted for a dis­parag­ing re­mark he made about Aung San Suu Kyi on Face­book. It was just the lat­est in a long list of crit­i­cal com­ments Ngar Min Swe, who is close to the for­mer mil­i­tary govern­ment, had made about Aung San Suu Kyi.

Reporters With­out Bor­ders (RSF) an or­gan­i­sa­tion that pro­motes and de­fends free­dom of the press around the world said that it be­lieved that Ngar Min Swe was con­victed as a good­will ges­ture to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to help re­pair Aung San Suu Kyi’s rep­u­ta­tion fol­low­ing its harsh crit­i­cism of the Reuters jour­nal­ists con­vic­tions.

“How­ever un­ac­cept­able the con­vic­tion of the two Reuters reporters may be, the sen­tence im­posed on the colum­nist Ngar Min Swe is to­tally dis­pro­por­tion­ate,” said Daniel Bas­tard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pa­cific desk.

“His posts hos­tile to Aung San Suu Kyi’s re­form move­ment may have been ques­tion­able, but the sen­tence he has re­ceived sets a wor­ry­ing prece­dent. It raises se­ri­ous doubts about the in­de­pen­dence of the ju­di­cial sys­tem in Myan­mar. For this rea­son, we are re­quest­ing an im­me­di­ate re­view of the charges against him. Above all, it is high time the govern­ment re­pealed the ar­chaic law on sedi­tion that was used to con­vict him.”

An­other case of jour­nal­ists be­ing threat­ened with pros­e­cu­tion were the charges brought against Eleven Me­dia group man­ag­ing ed­i­tors Kyaw Zaw Linn and Phyo Wai Win and chief re­porter Nayi Min af­ter they pub­lished an ar­ti­cle on 8 Oc­to­ber 2018 in the Weekly Eleven News Jour­nal out­lin­ing how of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the Yangon re­gion’s chief min­is­ter Phyo Min Thein a close ally of Aung San Suu Kyi, had al­legedly mis­man­aged pub­lic funds.

The pros­e­cu­tion was bought by Aung Kyaw Khine, the di­rec­tor of the Yangon re­gional govern­ment who claimed the ar­ti­cle dam­aged the dig­nity of the Yangon govern­ment. The jour­nal­ists were charged un­der Sec­tion 505(b) of the Pe­nal Code, an­other vaguely-worded law that pro­hibits the pub­li­ca­tion or cir­cu­la­tion of any state­ment, ru­mour, or re­port with in­tent to cause “fear or alarm to the pub­lic or to any sec­tion of the pub­lic whereby any per­son may be in­duced to com­mit an of­fence against the state or against the pub­lic tran­quil­lity.” They face a sen­tence of up to two years in prison if found guilty.

Af­ter Myan­mar Pres­i­dent Win Myint called on the Yangon Govern­ment to seek re­dress through the Myan­mar Press Coun­cil (MPC) rather than the courts the jour­nal­ists were re­leased on bail two weeks af­ter be­ing charged. They have al­ready met with the MPC sev­eral times to ex­plain why they wrote what they did and as of the be­gin­ning of De­cem­ber, the Yangon Re­gional Govern­ment had not re­sponded to the MPC who were still wait­ing to be in­vited to the govern­ment’s of­fice.

Yangon Chief Min­is­ter Phyo Min Thein has said the govern­ment will not drop the pros­e­cu­tion, as the pres­i­dent asked un­less the jour­nal­ists pub­lish a pub­lic apol­ogy and say what they wrote was in­cor­rect.

The jour­nal­ists are adamant that what they wrote is cor­rect and are re­fus­ing to bow to the pres­sure and re­tract what they said, even though they face the pos­si­bil­ity of jail time.

In an­other case of con­cern, the Myan­mar govern­ment did not re­sort to the courts but put a ban in place. On 12 June, con­tent from the US govern­ment-funded Ra­dio Free Asia was banned from be­ing broad­cast on any Myan­mar ra­dio sta­tions be­cause the me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tion re­fused to stop us­ing the word Ro­hingya.

Pro­tes­tors in Hong Kong call for the re­lease of the two jailed Reuters reporters. Photo: EPA

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