RANGOON – The director of Arakan State’s education department threatened to sue the editor of a local weekly journal under controversial articles 66(d) of Burma’s Telecommunications Act and Article 505(b) of the Penal Code after he published an article uncovering malpractice in the education department.
U Aung Kyaw Tun told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday he was preparing to sue Kaung Mrat Naing, editor of Thazin Pan Khine (meaning tiger lady in Burmese), for an article titled “What’s wrong with the salary of ethnic language teachers in Arakan State?” which was shared on the publication’s Facebook on Monday.
“That guy [Kaung Mrat Naing] accused me of extorting one month’s salary from ethnic language school teachers. I have never done this. That’s publishing misleading information and insulting me,” he said.
Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, enacted under former President U Thein Sein’s government in October 2013 has been increasingly used to stifle political dissidents and by individuals for personal retaliation against alleged defamation. Article 505(b) is a broadly defined charge, used to punish dissent in the past by punishing those who make statements that could “alarm the public.”
It was unclear if U Aung Kyaw Tun himself or the education department would be the plaintiff in the case.
On May 1, disgruntled Arakan State teachers submitted a letter of complaint to the President’s Office and the Ministry of Education, demanding an investigation of the regional education authorities of under-payments of a bonus for teaching ethnic language in schools, Thazin Pan Khine reported.
The teachers’ letter stated that while teachers from other states and divisions were receiving a 30,000 kyats bonus each month for 10 months, 4,885 teachers in Arakan State received only nine months of bonuses.
Teachers from Myebon Township complained they were paid only eight months of bonuses and accused the deputy director and an official from the township education department of extorting 30,000 kyats from every individual.
Myebon Township education department later paid teachers one extra month of bonus.
U Aung Kyaw Tun told The Irrawaddy over the phone on Monday afternoon that the Union government allocated a budget for only nine months of bonuses for Arakan State and issued the payments to township level officials.
He declined to comment on whether other states and regions paid bonuses for nine months.
Editor of Thazin Pan Khine claimed that he presented the story fairly and that nothing was fabricated in the article. He said he would face the lawsuit in court if the director filed the case.
“The director of the education department should reconsider a trial in order to avoid unnecessary risks,” Kaung Mrat Naing told The Irrawaddy.
Myanmar Press Council member U Myint Kyaw said even if the director of the education department is committed to bringing the case to court, he must first obtain the approval of the regional government for the trial or consult the state attorney as the case concerns government work.
“If he continues [without government approval] that will not be in line with procedure,” said U Myint Kyaw, “the state government prosecuting a journalist would harm its image,” he added.
U Myint Kyaw suggested the Myanmar Press Council mediate the dispute rather than bringing the case to court.