Rangoon Court Rejects Bi Mon Te Nay Appeal

By Nobel Zaw 28 October 2014

RANGOON — A district court in Rangoon on Monday rejected an appeal by three journalists and the two owners of the defunct Bi Mon Te Nay journal, who were trying to overturn the two-year sentences that were handed down to each earlier this month.

The group’s lawyer, Kyaw Win, told The Irrawaddy that the district judge heard their statement of appeal and “he decided to reject the case.”

Reporter Kyaw Zaw Hein, editors Win Tin and Thura Aung, and the journal’s owners Yin Min Htun and Kyaw Min Khaing were sentenced by Rangoon’s Pabedan Township Court under Article 505(b) of Burma’s Penal Code on Oct. 16.

The controversial article broadly criminalizes statements that could “alarm the public” or “whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the state.”

Kyaw Win said the court handed down the maximum sentence for the charge, and recommended that the verdict be overturned and the case be reviewed under provisions of a Media Law that was enacted in March 2014.

“I appeal to the court because my clients received the maximum punishment. The reporter was writing news, and there is a new law that has been approved by the president to address disputes about the media,” said Kyaw Win, explaining that the charges levied against his clients were inappropriate and resulted in a punishment that is disproportionate to the offense.

The three journalists and two owners were investigated and arrested in July 2014 after the journal ran a front page story about a statement containing false information.

The story was based on a statement by activist group Movement for Democracy Current Force, which claimed that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had formed an interim government.

The modest operations of the Bi Mon Te Nay journal ceased shortly after its staff were detained.

Kyaw Win said that he will wait for his clients’ families to decide whether to appeal to the regional judiciary. Appellants have 60 days to decide whether they will bring the case to a higher court, he said.

If an appeal to the Rangoon Regional Court is similarly rejected, they will still have the opportunity to take the case to the Supreme Court.

“I still haven’t decided [whether we should keep trying to appeal] and I feel very sad,” said Khin Aung, father of convicted reporter Kyaw Zaw Hein. “The judge rejected the appeal within a day.”

Minister of Information Ye Htut met with media representatives on Oct. 21, when he assured them that he would discuss the case with President Thein Sein. Members of the Myanmar Journalist Network, a Rangoon-based journalists’ support group, urged the minister to facilitate presidential intervention in the case.

Ye Htut told attendees of the meeting that, “[the] president cannot interfere in the judiciary sector, but he does have the authority to consider the cases after verdicts are given at the courts,” according to state media.

Appeals to regional courts have resulted in some successes for journalists facing legal charges. Earlier this month, five media workers of Unity Weekly journal were granted a reduced sentence after appeals to Magwe Divisional Court. The five were convicted in July of trespassing and violation of the colonial-era State Secrets Act after publishing an investigative report about a mysterious military facility.

The four reporters and CEO of the journal, who initially faced 10 years in jail with hard labor, have had their sentences reduced to seven years. The group plans to appeal again to the Supreme Court for an additional sentence reduction.