Journalists, Farmer Fined Under Defamation Charge

By Kaung Myat Min 14 July 2016

PYAY, Pegu Division — A farmer, a former reporter and an editor from The Ladies Journal were each handed fines of 20,000 kyats (around US$17) by a local court in Pegu Division’s Thaegon Township on Tuesday after being charged with defamation over a news story.

The Vol. 1 No. (81) of The Ladies Journal issued in the last week of September 2013 featured a news story which alleged that a retired lieutenant colonel had confiscated land in Thaegon Township on the false pretext of building an airport, before selling it off in plots instead.

Following the publication of the article, Lt-Col Khin Maung Win, the retired officer in question, sued then-resident reporter Maung Me and then-editor Ko Sai Sai, as well as Pyone Cho, the farmer who was quoted in the story.

The trial started in September 2013, and after over 50 court appearances spanning 2 1/2 years, the three accused were finally sentenced on Tuesday, with a choice between a fine of 20,000 kyats each or six months’ imprisonment; they paid the fine.

Ko Sai Sai, the former editor of The Ladies Journal, restated his innocence, saying that he had had no intention of personally attacking the retired officer, but had published the article because it included information that he felt the public had a right to know.

“I don’t think the court decision is fair even though it is just a fine,” Ko Sai Sai said. “It is ridiculous to charge the media with defamation, I think. In my view, we can even write [against] the president when there is a truth that people should know.”

This is the second case of punishment handed to journalists under the country’s civilian-led government; during the first week in June, a Mandalay-based reporter working for the BBC’s Burmese-language news service was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment—with hard labor—on police assault charges.

In the last week of June, the Burma Army filed a lawsuit against the 7 Day Daily local news outlet over a story which included former general Shwe Mann’s message to graduates of the Defense Services Academy urging them to work with the country’s newly-elected democratic government. Later, the military dropped the lawsuit.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.