Local Paper, Sued by Govt, Faces Further Charges for Covering its Own Trial

By Nobel Zaw 17 June 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s Ministry of Information has pursued contempt charges against more than a dozen editors of a local newspaper for reporting on its own legal proceedings in a separate defamation case brought by the government.

Wai Phyo, chief editor of Daily Eleven News, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the publication received a notification from the divisional court claiming that 17 members of the paper’s editorial team will be sued by the ministry for contempt of court.

“I don’t know all the details, but the MOI [Ministry of Information] sued 17 editors, including myself,” Wai Phyo said, adding that he will inform the public more fully in the coming days.

Five employees of Daily Eleven already face defamation charges after publishing a report alleging corruption within the ministry, claiming it had misused funds that it said were spent on a printing press.

The new charges relate to the paper’s coverage of its own trial, which is still ongoing.

Minister of Information Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy that he was unaware the court had sent a letter to Daily Eleven, but confirmed that the ministry had appealed to the court for further litigation, explaining that the paper’s coverage of the proceedings put “pressure” on the court.

“We viewed the news they wrote, related to the trial, as putting pressure on the court and irreverent,” Ye Htut said.

Defense lawyer Thein Than Oo told The Irrawaddy that the charges are likely to include contempt of court—which carries a penalty of up to six months in prison—and the trial will be held in Mandalay Division.

He said the case was not surprising, and predicted that similar suits will follow as elections near.

“I have been expecting this to happen because the elections are coming up, and the [government] will put pressure on activists, journalists and others who oppose them,” Thein Than Oo said. “They are waiting for mistakes, and if they find a chance they will take it.”