Journalists Handed 2-Month Prison Sentence on Defamation Charge

By Bone Myat 18 March 2015

RANGOON — A Moulmein Township Court in Mon State on Wednesday sentenced two local journalists with The Myanmar Post to two months in prison on charges of defamation, an editor of the newspaper said.

Zaw Min Naing, editor in-chief of The Myanmar Post, said, “Moulmein Township Court sentenced [the two] to two months’ imprisonment on a defamation charge… We have yet to consult with our lawyer on whether to appeal.”

Chief editor Than Htike Thu and deputy chief reporter San Moe Tun were sentenced for a news story that appeared on Jan. 29, 2014 and reported on Maj. Thein Zaw, a military lawmaker in the Mon State legislature.

The army lawmaker apparently was upset over the headline of the piece, which read: “A Military Parliamentary Representative Says They Have to Take Seats in Parliament Because of Low Educational Standards.”

Maj. Thein Zein’s lawyer filed a complaint of defamation against the chief editor and deputy reporter and called the reporter who wrote the piece as a witness in the case, according Tun Aung, a lawyer of the two convicted journalists.

“The story was sent by a freelance reporter called Zaw Min Oo, aka, Thalwin Maung Maung. According to his testimony, he said he recorded the audio file [of the major’s interview] and wrote the story and sent it by email. He also presented the email to the court. The account of the discussion of the major is also included in the email,” said Tun Aung.

“The major presented the reporter as a witness and prosecuted Than Htike Thu and San Moe Tun. Zaw Min Oo who wrote the story was not included in the complaint,” he added.

Thiha Saw, a member of the interim Press Council, said the criminal sentencing of the two journalists was the latest sign of a lack of media freedom in Burma. “It is wrong to say that we are enjoying media freedom. We still do not enjoy absolute media freedom. [Although] journalists do enjoy a greater degree of freedom compared to the past,” he said.

On Monday, The Myanmar Post journal was the first organization to publish a large black box instead of a front page photo to show its support for a campaign proposed by Myanmar Journalist’s Network to temporarily boycott government press events following a violent police crackdown on a student protest last week. During the incident, reporters and photographers were also targeted.