Most lawsuits against journalists brought by government officials

Yangon Region chief minister Phyo Min Thein holds a cabinet meeting on Oct. 11, 2018. Photo: Facebook / Phyo Min Thein

Out of 28 lawsuits brought against journalists since the National League for Democracy (NLD) took over Myanmar’s government in 2016, 17 were filed by members of the government, the freedom of expression advocacy group Athan announced yesterday.

According to the group, most of the cases were brought under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law. Earlier research by Free Expression Myanmar, another advocacy group, also found that cases under the law accelerated after the NLD came to power, with members of the party bringing more cases than members of any other political party.

Other cases brought against journalists since the NLD came to power have been filed under the Unlawful Associations Act, the Official Secrets Act, the sections 500 and 505(b) of the penal code, the News Media Law, the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens, the Aircraft Act, the Export and Import Law, and the Immigration Act.

Athan’s announcement came on the same day three journalists from Eleven Media were arrested for publishing an article that quotes Yangon Region lawmakers criticizing Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein, a close ally of party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, of violating government finance rules. They were charged under Section 505(b) of the penal code, which prohibits publishing information that may “cause fear or alarm” that could cause someone to commit an offense or disrupt “public tranquility”. It carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

The plaintiff in the case is Yangon Region government office director Aung Kyaw Khaing.

In response to the arrests, the International Federation of Journalists said: “The ongoing use of repressive and outdated legislation to suppress and control the media is having a detrimental impact on Myanmar’s democracy and freedom of the press. These kinds of actions send a message to journalists in Myanmar that press freedom comes at a price.”

The journalists have stood by their reporting, as has at least on the of the MPs quoted in the article.

“The article is correct,” regional MP and NLD member Kyaw Zeya told Khit Thit Media yesterday. He has volunteered to testify on court on behalf of the three journalists.

Kyaw Zeya has himself paid a price for criticizing his party. Last month, he was removed from his position as chairperson of the Dagon Township chapter of the NLD shortly after criticizing the regional government’s urban planning policies in an interview with local media.

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