Official Suing Journalists for Incitement Tells Court Their Article was Wrong

By Zue Zue 18 October 2018

YANGON — The government official suing three Eleven Media Group journalists for incitement told a court on Wednesday that information in a recent article was incorrect.

Managing editors U Kyaw Zaw Lin and Nari Min and chief reporter U Phyo Wai Win were arrested on Oct. 10 and charged under Article 505 (b) of the Penal Code for an article published two days earlier that was critical of the Yangon Region government.

The trial started Wednesday at the Tamwe Township Court.

The story in question, written by U Phyo Wai Win under the pseudonym Phyo Wai, criticized the Yangon government for wasting public money because of mismanagement, citing as examples a government loan for the purchase of a fleet of school buses obtained from two private banks without parliamentary approval and irregularities at the government’s Yangon Metropolitan Public Company, where more than 600,000 shares are under the regional planning and finance minister’s name.

“The facts written by Phyo Wai are incorrect,” said U Aung Kyaw Khaing, a director of Yangon’s government office.

The regional government formed the Yangon Metropolitan Public Company as a public entity and registered it with the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration in 2017, he said.

The Yangon government owned 51 percent of the company’s shares and the 64 billion kyat ($41.6 million) investment was approved by Parliament, he added.

A statement from the regional government on Oct. 11 said that 539,500 shares in the company were owned by the government and that 486,000 shares were owned by the Myanmar Construction and Development Co. Ltd., a private company mostly made up of developers.

“It is not the case that shares are under [Planning and Finance Minister] U Myint Thaung’s name. He just represents the government in the company,” said U Aung Kyaw Khaing.

“The incorrect information published in Weekly Eleven prompted shareholders and officials from Myanmar Construction and Development to worry about public mistrust in the company and dishonors the regional government,” he added, quoting from the Oct. 11 statement.

Speaking with reporters outside the courtroom, U Phyo Wai Win defended his reporting.

“[My story] was based on what [regional] lawmakers said, as [lawmakers] Daw Sandar Min and U Kyaw Zeya had said. I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said.

Daw Sandar Min and U Kyaw Zaya have told the media that the story was not wrong because it was based on what they said in Parliament based on the Auditor General’s report on the government’s 2016-17 fiscal year budget.

The defendants have applied for bail. The court will announce its decision on the request at the next hearing on Oct. 26.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.