Court Fines Weekly Journal Over Satirical Article

By The Irrawaddy 18 February 2019

YANGON — A court in Tanintharyi Region on Monday fined a local weekly 500,000 kyats ($327) for a satirical article it published more than a year ago that offended the region’s chief minister.

“It is not a fair decision,” Tanintharyi Journal editor-in-chief U Myo Aung said of the Dawei Township Court’s decision, especially, he added, given the government’s efforts to establish a liberal democracy that respects the freedom of expression.

The journal was sued by the deputy director of the regional government office over a Nov. 20, 2017, article that referred to an unnamed female incumbent planning to contest a coming election for ward and village administrators. The complaint said the article was targeting the regional chief minister, Daw Lei Lei Maw, and damaged the government’s reputation.

In December 2017, the journal was charged under Article 25 (b) of the Media Law — which carries a maximum fine of 1 million kyats for news that “deliberately affects” the reputation of s specific person or organization.”

U Myo Aung, who has appeared before the court 36 times in the case, said he would consult with a lawyer before deciding whether to appeal.

U Myint Kyaw, a member of the Myanmar Press Council, said the court decision was unjust.

“It is like enforcing censorship of the media — to not write anything critical about the authorities, including the chief ministers,” he said.

U Myint Kyaw noted that the article only raised the same complaints about local authorities that residents themselves voiced when State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited Tanintharyi Region last week.

Some residents had earlier handed the government a formal complaint accusing the chief minister — along with her brother-in-law U Aung Soe, a regional Lower House lawmakers, and regional Planning and Finance Minister U Phyo Min Tun — of awarding public contracts and a government job to relatives.

“The public’s complaints and the public feeling toward her are more harsh than this satirical piece, so in reality the journal should not be found guilty, ” U Myint Kyaw said.

The Irrawaddy’s ZUE ZUE contributes to this report.