Myanmar's Special Branch Police Sue Editor Under Counter Terrorism Law

By San Yamin Aung 31 March 2020

YANGON—The Mandalay Special Branch Police have opened a case against a detained Mandalay-based journalist under the Counter-Terrorism Law for publishing an interview with the spokesperson of the Arakan Army (AA), which the government recently designated a terrorist group.

The editor of Voice of Myanmar (VOM), Ko Nay Lin, was arrested Monday night by plainclothes officers from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and local police who came to his residence in Mandalay around 9:30 p.m..

He was remanded at the Chanmyathazi Township Court on Tuesday morning under Article 50 (a) and 52 (a) of the Counter-Terrorism Law. The first court date in the case is set for April 9.

Article 50 (a) carries a prison sentence of 10 years to life and a fine for causing severe damage to the security or the life and property of the public, or for forcing the government or any organization to commit an unlawful act or to refrain from following the law.

Article 52 (a) carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years for “knowingly participating in a terrorist group,” knowingly concealing or harboring a terrorist group or giving permission for a terrorist group to use a building or gather.

The government declared the AA and its political wing, the United League of Arakan (ULA), as terrorist groups and unlawful associations on March 23.

In the VOM interview, published Friday, the AA spokesperson answered questions about the ethnic armed group’s response to the declaration and its impact on the peace process.

Police conducted a search at the Voice of Myanmar office on March 31. / Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy

The AA was negotiating a bilateral ceasefire with the government but there have been no talks between the sides since February.

Ko Nay Lin’s wife, Zarni Mann, who is a Mandalay-based reporter for The Irrawaddy, said that arresting media personnel under such a repressive law while the country faces the emergency of the COVID-19 crisis constitutes oppression.

Fighting between the AA and the military has intensified since November 2018, leaving nearly 130,000 people displaced in 10 townships in Rakhine State, according to figures from the Rakhine Ethnics Congress (REC) at the end of February. Tens of thousands more are affected by the fighting in Paletwa Township, Chin State, according to the Chin State government.

In response to the case against Ko Nay Lin, journalist Ko Thiha Thwe said that during armed conflicts, it is essential to have unbiased reports on armed groups’ operations. He added that the charges brought against Ko Nay Lin are a worrying signal for all reporters who are covering conflicts in Myanmar.

“We will watch the case closely to see what accusations the police bring to support the charges,” he said.

Ko Kyaw Swa Min of the Myanmar Press Council said it is journalists’ duty to remain unbiased in their coverage and to do so, they will seek voices from both sides—including the AA and the military. He also denounced the prosecution of the journalist on criminal charges rather than under the country’s Media Law.

“If any action will be taken [against media personnel], it needs to be opened under the Media Law. Filing under the Counter-Terrorism Law is unacceptable,” he said.

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