YANGON & HSIPAW, Shan State — Seasoned reporter Lawi Weng “cannot wait” to return to his work covering conflict in Myanmar after the military withdrew cases against six journalists and two activists on Friday.
The Irrawaddy’s Lawi Weng, also known as U Thein Zaw, and U Aye Naing and Ko Pyae Phone Aung from the Democratic Voice of Burma have been detained in Hsipaw Prison for more than two months under the Unlawful Associations Act.
In a move the Tatmadaw described to the Myanmar Press Council as “wiping the slate clean,” it announced the withdrawal of charges against the three reporters, as well as defamation charges against The Voice Daily’s chief editor U Kyaw Min Swe and satirist Ko Ko Maung, who were sued for publishing a satirical article on the peace process.
Eleven Media’s chief editor Ko Wai Phyo, who was charged under Article 502 of Myanmar’s Penal Code for defamation, will also have his charges withdrawn.
Also included were activist U Htin Kyaw and student activist Ko Wai Yan Thein, also known as Victor, who were facing charges under Article 505(b) of the Penal Code for reportedly criticizing the Tatmadaw.
The move coincides with a court hearing of the three detained journalists at Hsipaw Court. They were arrested on June 26 after reporting on a Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) drug-burning ceremony in northern Shan State.
Lawyers representing the detained journalists told The Irrawaddy on Friday morning that the three would be released following the military’s decision but that they were currently waiting for the military plaintiff to formally appear at the court to drop the case.
The journalists were in high spirits as they waited in Hsipaw Court. Lawi Weng called it “amazing news,” and said he was looking forward to getting back to his work covering ethnic conflict in Myanmar.
Ko Kyaw Zwa Moe, editor of The Irrawaddy’s English edition, welcomed the military’s decision, adding, “Make no mistake, the military as well as the government should understand the role and responsibility of the media and treat them as professionals who are practicing one of the highest callings. I hope they will keep doing this. If they do so, it’ll be very helpful for the country’s democratization and there will be no ugly incidents like this one.”
The Myanmar Press Council issued a statement on Friday saying it had received a letter from the commander-in-chief’s office, which stated that the military “recognized journalists were serving the interests of the country and people together with the Tatmadaw.”
The Tatmadaw had withdrawn the cases “to serve the interests of the country and people together,” stated the letter.
The office also urged the council to ensure accuracy, impartiality and fairness in reporting in line with media ethics.
“We are very grateful to the Tatmadaw for showing magnanimity,” stated the council.
Council member U Myint Kyaw said, “This is how it should have been from the start. We welcome it.” He added that journalists should only be charged under the Media Law if someone feels aggrieved by their reporting.