Military Sues The Irrawaddy for ‘Unfair’ Coverage of Rakhine Conflict

By The Irrawaddy 22 April 2019

YANGON—The Myanmar military has sued The Irrawaddy News under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law for its coverage of recent clashes between the Army and the Arakan Army ethnic armed group in the ancient town of Mrauk-U in Rakhine State.

The military’s Yangon Region Command filed the case against the news agency’s Burmese edition editor U Ye Ni on April 12 at Kyauktada Police Station. It is the second time the military has taken legal action against The Irrawaddy in the past three years. In June 2017 a reporter from the news organization and two others from Democratic Voice of Burma were detained by the military and charged under Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act during a reporting trip to northern Shan State.

Kyauktada Police Station chief Po Htun told The Irrawaddy on Monday that Lieutenant Colonel Zaw Min Tun of the Yangon Region Command filed the case on behalf of Yangon military commander Major General Thet Pone. The editor was granted bail on the same day.

The secretary of the military’s True News Information Team, Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun, told The Irrawaddy on Sunday that media coverage of the Rakhine conflict, including The Irrawaddy’s, had not been fair, prompting it to take legal action.

Clashes between the AA, which seeks autonomy for the Arakanese people in Rakhine State, and the Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) intensified early this year following the rebels’ attacks on police outposts in northern Rakhine State on Jan. 4. The government announced that there had been 103 incidents of fighting between the Tatmadaw and the AA since January, resulting in the deaths of 12 civilians. The Myanmar Army admitted there had been casualties on both sides.

Since mid-March, the two sides have accused each other of opening fire on civilians. The Tatmadaw claims such incidents occur because AA troops try to mingle with local residents.

The civilian casualties have dominated the headlines of local publications.

The Irrawaddy has reported extensively on fighting between the AA and government troops since the outbreak of clashes in January, presenting views from both sides, as well as follow-ups on local people displaced by the fighting.

The Irrawaddy’s U Ye Ni said the agency has exercised its journalistic rights and ethics as stated in the country’s Media Law.

“I feel sorry about the military’s misunderstanding of us. Journalism dictates that we reveal the suffering of people in a conflict area. Our intention behind the coverage is to push those concerned to solve the problems by understanding the sufferings of the people,” he said.

The editor said he had informed the Myanmar Press Council about the charge and requested its intervention.

Meanwhile, the military’s ire has not been limited to the news media. It recently charged an activist, a human-rights film director and student activists with public mischief. In 2017, the military sued the editor and a writer from local paper The Voice over a satirical piece.