Myanmar Military Sues 3 Reporters over Farmers’ Protest in Loikaw

By Htet Naing Zaw 21 June 2019

NAYPYITAW—The Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) has filed a lawsuit against three reporters who covered a farmers’ protest in Kayah State’s Loikaw under Article 12 of the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens.

Captain Aung Myo Tun of No. 360 Artillery Battalion opened a case against 12 individuals including reporters from Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), Eleven Media Group and Kantarawady Times on June 19 with Demoso Township Police Station.

According to the Tatmadaw, farmers trespassed into the compound of the battalion, destroying its fence and hundreds of trees grown as a windbreak. The captain accused the reporters of assisting the protesters by filing real-time reports from the scene.

“We received a complaint [regarding the police lawsuit] from DVB today, and as soon as we received it, we started seeking information [on the case],” said U Kyaw Swar Min, secretary of the Myanmar Press Council.

“The chief of Demoso Township police confirmed to me that a case was opened against those three reporters along with farmers at 10.45 pm on June 19,” he added.

According to locals, the battalion grabbed the village area in 1989 without giving any compensation to villagers. The latest protest was staged after the military grabbed more land and fenced off the route to the area’s farms, they said.

“We are still investigating. We don’t know all the details. We are asking our lawyer [whether that charge can legally be applied to reporters], and we are still confirming that,” U Peter Aung, the website editor of DVB, told The Irrawaddy.

Tatmadaw spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said he did not yet have any details on the case.

Article 12 of the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens concerns the offense of trespassing. Those convicted face a prison term of between one to five years plus a fine of between 500,000 and 2.5 million kyats (US$330 to $1,645).

The Irrawaddy and Radio Free Asia (RFA) sought the Press Council’s intervention after the Tatmadaw initiated legal action against them regarding their reporting on the conflict in Rakhine State’s Mrauk-U in April.

“Because of those cases related to the RFA and The Irrawaddy, and DMG in Rakhine, we sent a letter of request to the Army chief [asking that the Press Council be allowed to mediate in the dispute, as required under the Media Law] regarding those cases. We heard that the RFA case is OK now, but we don’t know yet about the other cases,” U Kyaw Swar Min said.

In May, the Home Affairs Ministry’s Special Branch opened a lawsuit against U Aung Min Oo, chief editor of Sittwe-based Development Media Group (DMG), under Article 17(2) of the Unlawful Association Act, for its reports on armed clashes between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army.

The Myanmar Press Council said it would send a letter to the Army chief requesting that the Tatmadaw take action in line with the Media Law, which requires it to seek Press Council mediation before opening a legal case. The council is set to discuss the latest lawsuits on Monday.