RANGOON — Two journalists employed by the Myanmar Herald were fined one million kyats (US$800) each after being found guilty of defaming the president, the journal’s chief editor said on Tuesday.
Eleven people were initially tried in the case when the Ministry of Information leveled the charges late last year at the Pokeba Thiri Township Court in Naypyidaw.
Nine of the accused were acquitted on Tuesday, while former chief editor Kyaw Swa Win and deputy chief editor Win Ko Ko Oo—also known as Ant Khaung Min—received the maximum fine for violating Chapter 4 (9) (g) of a newly enacted Media Law.
The journal’s legal woes began after publishing an interview with a researcher for Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), which criticized President Thein Sein for waffling in statements about whether he would seek reelection.
“The judge said the interview about President Thein Sein should not have been published, that President Thein Sein is like our parent and it was defamation,” said the journal’s current chief editor, Aung Kyaw Min.
Complaints about media offenses are meant to be mediated by Burma’s Interim Press Council, a semi-governmental body established in 2012 to liaise between the press and the government.
The council received two defamation complaints from the Ministry of Information last September—one against the Myanmar Herald—though the journal’s editor said the council played little role in their dispute.
Defense lawyer Zaw Lin denounced the outcome as unjust.
“The other nine people were released, which is reasonable. But for these two journalists, they shouldn’t have been fined, and we will appeal to the district court,” Zaw Lin said.
Aung Kyaw Min stood by his team, who he believes did nothing wrong, and criticized the government’s treatment of the fourth estate.
“If they want [Burma] to become a democratic country, they shouldn’t restrict the press,” he said.
Media reforms initiated since 2012 were met with initial praise, as prepublication censorship was abolished and licenses granted for private publishing outfits, though rights groups have since warned that new freedoms could be backsliding.
Last year, a journalist was killed in the custody of the Burma Army. At least a dozen others are serving prison terms for charges related to their work, some for up to seven years with hard labor.
Additional reporting contributed by Zue Zue.