Press Protest Gets Red Light, as Journals Put on Trial

By The Irrawaddy 24 August 2012

A media rights group has been denied permission to hold a protest in Rangoon next week, as courts in Burma’s largest city move forward with lawsuits lodged against two journals by the government.

Police in Rangoon’s Kyauktada Township told the Committee for Press Freedom (CPF) on Friday that a request to hold a rally in front of Rangoon’s City Hall on Aug. 28 had been denied because it would obstruct traffic.

The decision comes  a day after a court in Dagon Township said it would decide on Sept. 6 whether to proceed with a defamation case laid against The Voice Weekly by the Ministry of Mines.

The charge stems from a report published by the journal on March 12 that said the Office of the Auditor General had uncovered evidence of corruption in six government ministries, including the Ministry of Mines.

“Today, both sides submitted final arguments. We said the case should not be prosecuted and they said it should,” Kyaw Min Swe, the editor-in-chief of The Voice Weekly, told reporters in front of the court on Thursday.

The journal’s lawyer, Win Shwe, also spoke to reporters. “If the case goes ahead, we will have to go on trial. If the court dismisses it, the complainant may appeal. We have to see what the court’s decision will be,” he said.

More than 30 journalists from local news agencies were present to cover the hearing, many of them wearing black t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Stop Killing Press” and black baseball caps with “Press Freedom” written on them.

The protest garb is part of a campaign launched by the CPF to push Burma’s government to further loosen restrictions on the media. On Monday, the press censorship board announced that it would no longer require pre-publication scrutiny, but the move has done little to placate media practitioners.

“Although the government said there is no longer active involvement of the censorship board, it continues to sue media, and laws that control freedom of information, such as the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act and the 2004 Electronics Act, still exist,” Zaw Thet Htway, the person in-charge of information for the Committee for Press Freedom (CPF), told The Irrawaddy.

The group said that it would also attend a trial held today in Rangoon’s Pazundaung Township, where the Snap Shot news journal is also being sued for violating press control laws.