BBC Journalist to Appeal Conviction

By Tin Htet Paing 10 June 2016

RANGOON — A Mandalay-based journalist working for the BBC’s Burmese-language news service, who was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment with hard labor on police assault charges, plans to file an appeal next week, according to his lawyer.

Forty-year-old reporter Nay Myo Lin was convicted under Article 332 of Burma’s Penal Code, which covers “voluntarily causing harm to deter [a] public servant from carrying out his duty,” at Mandalay’s Chanmyathazi Township court on Monday after a year-long trial.

The initial complaint was submitted by Lance Corporal Ba Maw over an alleged altercation between the policeman and the journalist during a demonstration in Mandalay last year. The 2015 protest was held by several dozen Mandalay-based students and activists demanding the release of those arrested in “the Letpadan crackdown” that saw students imprisoned in Pegu Division for demonstrating against Burma’s controversial National Education Law.

Nay Myo Lin’s defense lawyer, Thein Than Oo, told The Irrawaddy that the appeal would be submitted to Mandalay district court next week once the Chanmyathazi Township courthouse finishes its legal procedures.

“We will try our best to get an acquittal or a more lenient sentence [at the appeal],” he said.

He also stressed that the three-month jail term was an unexpected punishment as the court could have chosen to impose a monetary penalty instead.

Nay Myo Lin is the husband of Zarni Mann, a Mandalay-based reporter for The Irrawaddy who is also currently pregnant.

Zarni Mann claimed that the whole process of testimony by the trial judge was questionable, adding that the judge did not review the altercation clearly.

“I think the sentence was too heavy for such a minor injury,” she said. “The injury was so insignificant it was hardly noticeable,” she said.

According to the police, the authorities tried to stop protesters on motorbikes and caused several drivers to fall. The reporter Nay Myo Lin was among those who were caught up in the accident, after which he allegedly hit one of the officers on his left temple.

“He [the judge] said he wanted to protect civil servants. But he didn’t think about other people,” Zarni Mann told The Irrawaddy, referring to the protesters who fell from motorbikes because of the attempts of the police officer to stop them.

She also questioned the new government’s commitment to reform the judiciary and called on the government to review the verdict.

The BBC issued a statement after the verdict that the organization would “work with the lawyer to support his appeal.”

Both the Foreign Correspondents Club of Myanmar (FCCM) and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) said in press releases on Tuesday that the verdict was “harsh” as the incident was not intentional and had occurred during a scuffle.

“We believe that such a harsh sentence meted out against a journalist could tarnish the image of the new civilian government that espouses…democracy and reforms,” FCCM said in their statement.

SEAPA described both the charges and sentence as “an attempt to diminish blame on the police,” whose own actions at the demonstration had not been reviewed in the context of their legality.

Burma News International said in a statement on Thursday that the case against Nay Myo Lin “deeply saddened” Burmese journalists, as they are working with the new government to create a better media environment in the country.

“We believe it would be appropriate for officials from the judiciary department together with government agencies to review reporter Nay Myo Lin’s case in accordance with the legal procedures of the News Media Law rather than the Penal Code,” the statement said.