RANGOON – More than 100 journalists in Rangoon demanded on Tuesday that the government withdraw lawsuits filed against reporters under the country’s controversial Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law.
The media representatives gathered at the Orchid Hotel in light of the recent arrest of The Voice Daily’s chief editor, U Kyaw Min Swe, and columnist Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing. The two are charged with defamation, as is outlined in Article 66(d), after the military complained of an article in the publication that satirized the country’s armed struggle and peace process.
Ko Tha Lun Zaung Htet, from the Democratic Voice of Burma, organized the conference and temporarily formed the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (Myanmar), which has 21 members from various news outlets.
On Tuesday afternoon, the committee released a statement with three points: firstly, to terminate statutes like 66(d) which threaten freedom of the press, to drop the lawsuits under this law which are being conducted by the Burma Army and other authorities, and to collaborate with civil society organizations to ensure that these demands are met.
According to committee members, journalists will begin a white armband campaign entitled “Freedom of Press” on June 8, the day of the upcoming court hearing in Bahan Township for The Voice Daily’s detained staff.
The journalists will march from The Voice’s office to the Bahan courthouse on that day and wear the armbands, but the committee stated that it would avoid any conduct that could be construed by authorities as a demonstration, for which permission must be obtained beforehand.
Ko Tha Lun Zaung Htet said, “Our movement is not a protest. We will just go to encourage [U Kyaw Min Swe and Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing].”
According to the Research Team on the Telecommunications Law, led by activist Maung Saung Kha—a poet who was himself sentenced and jailed in 2016 under Article 66(d)—seven cases were filed under the law during former President Thein Sein’s administration, which created the statute. However, charges have been filed in 68 cases during the first year of the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) government. Among those accused, around a dozen have been journalists.
Rangoon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein, the Burma Army, and even some NLD lawmakers have used Article 66(d) to initiate lawsuits. Several journalists have criticized the NLD-dominated Parliament for not yet moving to amend or repeal the law.
Myanmar Journalist Network’s General Secretary U Zayar Hlaing urged the government to urgently amend the law, citing a muzzling of the freedom of expression of the public, as well as the media industry.
“Detaining people before conviction by a judge is really inappropriate. I would like to say that this law should be immediately amended,” he said.