Burmese Newspaper’s Chief Editor and Satirist Taken Into Police Custody Over 66(d) Charge

By Tin Htet Paing 2 June 2017

RANGOON — Police detained chief editor of The Voice Daily newspaper Ko Kyaw Min Swe and its regular columnist Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing—also known by his pen name British Ko Ko Maung—on Friday afternoon, according to the chief editor’s legal adviser U Khin Maung Myint.

The pair is facing a lawsuit filed on May 17 by the Burma Army under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law over a satirical article questioning the country’s armed struggle and peace process.

Ko Kyaw Min Swe and Ko Ko Maung were first summoned to Bahan Township police station on Friday afternoon for further investigation regarding the suit, U Khin Maung Myint said.

“Police said they could not allow them to leave [the police station] since there’s an arrest order [for the pair], and that they had to put them in custody,” U Khin Maung Myint told The Irrawaddy.

Article 66(d) requires that an arrest warrant issued by the court within 24 hours of placement in police custody, but since the courts are closed over the weekend, U Khin Maung Myint said he is negotiating with the police regarding the matter.

The article in question, titled ‘Kyi Htaung Su Thitsar’—meaning ‘Oath Made in a Nation of Bullets’—was written by Ko Ko Maung and published on March 26.

The title was a play on the army-produced film ‘Pyi Htaung Su Thitsar’—translated as ‘Union Oath’—that commemorated the country’s 72nd Armed Forces Day and aired on state- and military-owned channels in early March.

The piece suggested that ethnic armed groups in the long-running civil war are united only in fighting one another. It said people in Burma do not need to leave the country to fight wars when they are a day’s drive from the frontline.

Lower-ranking soldiers die in ongoing battles while the leaders of armed groups hold peace talks and exchange smiles, British Ko Ko Maung wrote.

The lawsuit came amid mediation held by the Myanmar Press Council between the paper and the military, which complained to the council about the article just before the Thingyan holidays in April.

A member of the press council told reporters that the article “could cause divisions between military officials and their subordinates because it implied that lower-ranking soldiers are the ones who actually have to die in battle while officials do not really have to fight.”

The Voice Daily published a note in its May 14 edition, expressing its regret for the army’s complaint. It stated that the article was humorous, constructive and did not intend to harm the image of the Burma Army or any other ethnic armed groups.

U Khin Maung Myint told The Irrawaddy that The Voice Daily had sent a draft letter with proposed wording to the military through the press council on May 24, to amend the note published earlier in the month, but have not heard back since.

Defending his piece, satirist Ko Ko Maung said that it did not name specific institutions, groups, or the army, but satirized the generic situation of all armed groups. The Voice Daily’s executive editor Ko Aung Soe also said that there are different standards and qualifications for news stories and satirical articles, and that the military might have misinterpreted the piece.

U Aung Hla Tun, a vice-chair of Myanmar Press Council, who is leading the negotiation process, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the mediation could be assumed to have been unsuccessful in this particular incident.

He refused to comment further regarding the case.

Since the enactment of the Telecommunication law in 2013, there have been a total of 67 cases filed under Article 66(d), according to the a local research group led by a former prisoner Maung Saung Kha, a poet who was jailed under the same charge in 2016.

Advocates who promote freedom of speech and expression have been lobbying for the complete abolishment of this particular section of the Telecommunications Law.