Three journalists arrested over coverage of Yangon chief minister’s alleged finance violations

Yangon Region chief minister Phyo Min Thein at a cabinet meeting on Oct. 8, 2018. Photo: Facebook / Phyo Min Thein
Yangon Region chief minister Phyo Min Thein at a cabinet meeting on Oct. 8, 2018. Photo: Facebook / Phyo Min Thein

Three editors of Eleven Media were arrested this morning for publishing an article over the weekend accusing the Yangon Region government of financial mismanagement and violating government budget rules.

A dozen officers raided Eleven’s Tamwe Township office at around 7pm last night with orders to arrest editors Nayi Min, Kyaw Zaw Linn, and Phyo Wai Win. None were at the office, and police said they would come back in the morning to question the editors.

The editors were summoned to the township police station this morning and charged under Section 505(b) of the penal code, which outlaws the publication of information that could cause “fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offense against the State or against the public tranquility”.

At a hearing at the Tamwe Township courthouse, Yangon Region government office director Aung Kyaw Khaing said he filed the case in response to an Oct. 6 article in the Weekly Eleven News Journal accusing the regional government of borrowing K13.5 billion (US$8.8 million) from Ayeyarwady Bank and Kanbawza Bank to purchase 1,000 public buses and 200 school buses without parliamentary approval.

A photo of a regional government cabinet meeting posted to the Facebook page of Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein on Oct. 8 shows a copy of the article beside the chief minister’s seat at the meeting table.

The article, titled “Skepticism over the Yangon Region Budget”, quotes a report by the regional auditor general and regional lawmakers making the same accusations against the regional government and the chief minister. However, neither the auditor general nor the lawmakers are facing legal action over the allegations.

The three journalists were taken to Insein Prison after their hearing. If convicted they could face up to two years in prison.

This is not the first time Eleven has ended up in hot water over accusations against Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein. In Nov. 2016, editor Wai Phyo and chief executive officer Dr. Than Htut Aung were arrested for online defamation under section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law for alleging that the chief minister received a US$100,000 watch from a convicted drug lord. They spent two months in prison and were released only after they published an apology.

Press freedom in Myanmar has been deteriorating under the National League for Democracy government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Last month, a Yangon court sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison for possessing what the government deemed “secret information” while they were investigating a massacre of Rohingya civilians in Rakhine State.

Arrests of journalists under other laws, such as the Telecommunications Law and Section 505 of the penal code, have also accelerated since the party came to power.

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