Press Council Requests Role in Case Against Journalists

By Htet Naing Zaw 26 June 2019

NAYPYITAW—The Myanmar Press Council on Tuesday sent a letter to the military chief arguing that only the Media Law should be applied in the case of three reporters sued under privacy law violations by the Tatmadaw for their reporting on a farmers’ protest in Kayah State earlier this month.

Captain Aung Myo Tun of the No. 360 Artillery Battalion opened a case with the Demoso Township Police against 12 people on June 19, including reporters from Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), Eleven Media Group and Kantarawaddy Times, after they covered a farmers’ protest in Loikaw, the state capital, that morning.

According to the Tatmadaw, the farmers trespassed into the battalion’s compound, destroying its fence and hundreds of trees grown as a windbreak.

The Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens details offenses and punishments related to privacy violations, including trespassing; the captain opened cases against the reporters for assisting or abetting the protestors’ trespass—a crime under Article 12 of that law—by filing real-time reports from the scene.

If convicted, all 12 face prison sentences of between one and five years and fines between 500,000 and 2.5 million kyats (US$330 to $1,645).

“We sent a request letter to the army chief on Tuesday, in which we said that the press council would like to handle such issues in line with the Media Law. We suggested that other options should be taken only if they’re not satisfied with how we handle it,” Myanmar Press Council secretary U Kyaw Swar Min told The Irrawaddy.

After receiving requests for their intervention from DVB and Eleven Media, the council convened on Tuesday and decided to send the letter.

“These are cases in which journalists are arrested together with others. Some authorities do not understand that the journalists were only doing their job of reporting. I don’t accept that other laws can be applied to charge journalists. I hope that [the authorities] file complaints with the press council [if they have problems with reporters],” U Kyaw Swar Min said.

“The request mainly urges [the Tatmadaw, or Myanmar military] to refile the complaint with our council,” U Myint Kyaw, a member of the press council, explained. “I mean, in this case, they can file a complaint with us if they think the reporters assisted the farmers by doing journalism.”

“As far as I know, they did not do anything that journalists shouldn’t do. It appears that they didn’t make any mistakes,” he added.

Eleven Media Group executive editor Ko Oo said their reporter accused in the case, Kayah State reporter Naw Khaing Khaing Aye Cho, is still working.

“Yes, a case has been opened against her. The case is still in that stage, and we have requested the Myanmar Press Council intervene,” but “currently, she is still working as usual,” he said.

Captain Ah Naing, head of the township police, said his department is still investigating witnesses, including soldiers, the township administrator, the head of the township land records department and members of the township farmland management committee.

“They were all present at the time of the protest, so we are investigating them. We can detain the accused under Article 12, but we will take action according to our findings and so we will do nothing to them until then,” he said.

In April, the Tatmadaw sued The Irrawaddy and Radio Free Asia (RFA) for defamation under Article 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Law over their coverage of clashes between the military and the Arakan Army in the ancient town of Mrauk-U, in Rakhine State.

Following an intervention from the Myanmar Press Council, the Tatmadaw agreed not to follow through with charges against RFA.

The military has also filed similar lawsuits against filmmaker U Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, former military captain U Nay Myo Zin and five members of the Peacock Generation thangyat troupe for defamation under Article 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Law. They were all denied bail and are currently detained in prisons.

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