Myanmar Military Sues Rakhine Media over Theft Allegations

By Khine Rola 25 January 2021

Sittwe, Rakhine State — Myanmar’s military has opened a case against an editor and a reporter at the Sittwe-based Development Media Group (DMG) media group in Rakhine State under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law.

Editor U Ne Win San and reporter Ma Hnin Nwe were charged over a news story about alleged theft by government troops of rice from a village in Kyauktaw Township after villagers had fled clashes.

“[Ma Hnin Nwe] wrote the story based on the accounts of Marlar villagers that their rice was taken by some Tatmadaw [military] soldiers. We could not contact the Rakhine State government, the [military-appointed] state security and border affairs minister or the Tatmadaw,” said editor U Ne Win San.

He said he did not know the legal details and had not informed been about the lawsuit.

Police Lieutenant Than Htike of Sittwe Township confirmed the military lawsuit against the journalists without providing details.

The Irrawaddy was unable to contact Rakhine State security and border affairs minister Colonel Min Than or Myanmar’s military.

The DMG story said: “Villagers said Tatmadaw soldiers, who were temporarily deployed in the mountains near Marlar village in Kyauktaw Township, took 700 baskets of rice while the villagers were away after fleeing clashes.”

U Ne Win San said he viewed the lawsuit as a threat to media agencies to prevent them from reporting on the Tatmadaw in the state.

“This is intended to scare off the media in Rakhine State,” he said.

DMG is a Rakhine-focused news agency providing real-time reports on politics, armed conflicts, human rights, controversial projects and the economy. After reporting on fighting with the Arakan Army and alleged rights abuses against civilians by government troops, the DMG website has been blocked since March by mobile operators.

In May 2019, special branch police at the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs filed a lawsuit against the DMG editor-in-chief, U Aung Min Oo, under the Unlawful Association Act. He is currently in hiding.

The Road and Bridge Department at the Construction Ministry filed a lawsuit against DMG’s Maungdaw-based reporter Ko Aung Kyaw Min under the Telecommunications Law over his story about a damaged bridge in Maungdaw.

Any citizen can use Article 66(d) to sue for alleged online abuse, regardless of whether they were the subject of the remarks. It carries a threat of three years in prison and is deeply controversial for alleged defamation. The law has come to be interpreted as any use of the internet, so sharing a Facebook post that casts someone in a negative light can be grounds for prosecution.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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