Myanmar Military Case Against Irrawaddy Editor to Move Ahead

By The Irrawaddy 16 March 2020

YANGON—The Myanmar military’s legal action against The Irrawaddy News for its coverage of clashes between the military and the Arakan Army (AA) ethnic armed group will proceed as a Yangon court accepted the case on Monday after the case had stalled for nearly a year.

The military’s Yangon Region Command filed the case against the news agency’s Burmese edition editor U Ye Ni on April 12 last year. He was sued under Article 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Law for the publication’s coverage of fighting between the government and AA troops in the ancient town of Mrauk-U in Rakhine State in 2019.

This is the second time the military has taken legal action against The Irrawaddy in the past four 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.

Lieutenant Colonel Zaw Min Tun of the Yangon Region Command first filed the case against U Ye Ni and The Irrawaddy last April on behalf of Yangon military commander Major General Thet Pone at Kyauktada Police Station. The editor was granted bail at the time.

Since then, the police and law officers have been working on the case to determine if it is valid to file the charge under Article 66 (d).

On Monday, Yangon’s Kyauktada Court accepted the case and will begin hearings to decide if the editor is guilty or not. As the case concerns a bailable offense, U Ye Ni was granted bail on the same day.

Anyone found guilty under Article 66 (d) can be sentenced to up to two years in prison or fined.

Clashes between the AA, which seeks autonomy for the ethnic Rakhine people in Rakhine State, and the Myanmar Army, or Tatmadaw, have intensified since early 2019 following the rebels’ attacks on police outposts in northern Rakhine State last January. The two sides have accused each other of opening fire on civilians.

Currently, the two sides have been fighting in nearby Chin State’s Paletwa Township. The displacement of civilians and 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 2019, presenting views from both sides, as well as follow-ups on the local people displaced by the fighting.

Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the international organization is calling on Myanmar’s military to drop these wrong-headed charges against Ye Ni and to allow reporters to report freely on the conflict in Rakhine and Chin states.

“If Myanmar wants to be taken seriously as a functioning democracy, this type of military harassment of independent journalists must stop now,” he said.

Given the ongoing fighting in Paletwa and upcoming general election later this year, U Ye Ni said he wondered if the move to push the lawsuit against him now is intended as a preliminary warning for journalists in Myanmar.

“Whatever it may be, it’s our responsibility to speak out for suffering people in conflict areas and expose human rights abuses,” he said.

“To make this happen, we will never negotiate as journalism is not the crime,” he added.

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