A spokesperson for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), whose leaders are former military officers, told local media last week that the prosecution of three journalists over their news reporting goes “beyond democratic standards”.
“Under the constitution, every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. In the case of Eleven Media Group, we were surprised and shocked that a lawsuit under Section 505(b) was used against a news article that is written for the interest of the country and people,” USDP spokesperson Thein Tun Oo told reporters at the party’s Mandalay Region headquarters on Thursday.
On Oct. 10, Eleven Media editors Nayi Min, Kyaw Zaw Linn, and Phyo Wai Win were arrested and charged under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, which outlaws the publication of information that could induce people “to commit an offense against the State or against the public tranquility”.
The charges were filed by Yangon Region government office director Aung Kyaw Khaing in response to an Oct. 8 article in the Eleven Weekly Journal alleging that regional chief minister Phyo Min Thein borrowed K13.5 billion (US$8.8 million) from two private banks in order to purchase over 1,000 public buses without parliamentary approval, in violation of Myanmar’s constitution.
Thein Tun Oo also cited other recent cases of political censorship as evidence of Myanmar’s eroding democracy. Last month, he said, Shwebo District USDP leader Soe Aye was arrested and charged under Section 505(B) of the Penal Code for accusing Myanmar state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD) of building homes for Rohingyas in Rakhine State.
Earlier this month, he said, Ann Regional China Pipeline Watch (ARCPW) founder Myo Lwin was arrested and charged under Section 68(a) of the Telecommunications Law over a Facebook post that accuses Chinese oil tankers of causing the mass death of thousands of mussels that are thought to have spread diseases in Rakhine State coastal communities.
Thein Tun Oo said: “If the situation goes on like this, I am concerned that democracy being practiced now might not be good in either in essence or form.”
He added that Myanmar citizens have not been able to enjoy their full rights under the constitution because of diminishing press freedom and the lack of a mechanism to recall parliamentarians.
Journalists have been arrested for their work under both the previous USDP government and under the current NLD government, but they have accelerated rapidly under the latter.