A Myanmar court dismissed a case against three Eleven Media journalists on Friday, after the Yangon Regional Government dropped incitement charges against the three senior journalists from the country’s largest private newspaper.
Phyo Wai Win, Eleven Media’s chief reporter, and Kyaw Zaw Lin and Nayi Min, two editors, were arrested on Oct. 10 under 505(b) of the Penal Code for “incitement,” intent to cause “fear or alarm to the public,” and disrupting the “public tranquility.”
They were arrested just two days after publishing an article that quoted lawmakers raising questions about spending by the Yangon city government, and took aim at controversial and opaque business practices of Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein.
The Yangon government faced mounting pressure from local and international organizations and the Myanmar government to pursue other avenues. The NLD-led government urged the Yangon regional government to pursue action under the Media Act, which would allow the Myanmar Press Council (MPC) to mediate the conflict between Eleven Media and the regional government.
This isn’t Eleven Media’s first run-in with Phyo Min Thein. In November 2016, Wai Phyo, chief editor of the Daily Eleven Newspaper and the Weekly Eleven News Journal and Dr. Than Htut Aung, chairman and CEO of Eleven Media were arrested for online defamation under section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law.
The two had published an opinion piece that suggested the chief minister had received a $100,000 watch from a prominent businessman. They were released only after issuing a public apology after spending two months in prison.
The three reporters aren’t out of the woods just yet. Yangon authorities are pursuing negotiations with the MPC, and Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein has said he will continue pursuing legal avenues against the journalists if they refuse to issue an apology.
The arrest of the three was just the latest in a series of instances in which journalists and activists have been targeted with legal action, underscoring questions about freedom of speech and media independence under the NLD government.
Myint Zaw Oo, a Radio Free Asia (RFA) reporter was charged on Nov. 3 under Article 68(a) of the Telecommunications Act after posting a question about a possible bomb explosion on Facebook. The MPC mediation filed a request to drop the case yet the police have rejected it.
The case in which Reuters journalists Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo were handed seven-year jail sentences in for their exposé of a military massacre of 10 Rohingya men in Inn Din Village in Northern Rakhine State, in particular, has drawn wide-scale international condemnation.
In the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, Myanmar ranked 137th out of 180 countries, and Reporters Without Borders has warned against Myanmar’s position within the index after violating the freedom to inform and press freedom.