RANGOON – The Voice Daily’s satirical columnist Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing has been officially absolved from defamation charges under Myanmar’s controversial Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, but the publication’s chief editor U Kyaw Min Swe was denied bail by a Bahan Township judge on Friday morning.
An army official brought charges against the pair for publishing an article in March that satirized the country’s armed struggle and peace process. Both journalists were detained by Yangon’s Bahan Township police on June 2, with trial proceedings being initiated the following day.
U Kyaw Min Swe and Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing—also known by his pen name British Ko Ko Maung—pledged to meet bail in line with Section 497(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which states that any person arrested without a warrant or summoned to the court can request temporary release with the permission of a judge. The attempt was dismissed by judge Daw Thara Phi Aung, who stated that the two journalists had failed to provide in a timely manner a medical recommendation that would justify the granting of bail.
During Friday’s court hearing, lawyer U Myo Thein presented evidence of similar cases from other regions in Myanmar in which bail was granted, which he said set a precedent for the release of U Kyaw Min Swe.
Moreover, U Kyaw Min Swe’s legal team stated that the editor has required prescriptions for stomach ulcers and liver issues while in Yangon’s Insein prison. Lawyer and legal adviser U Khin Maung Myint requested a document stating as much from an Insein cell official, but he told the court that the individual reportedly would not cooperate.
Lawyer U Myo Thein relayed a contact number for Insein Prison to the judge at the court hearing, recommending that she call and confirm U Kyaw Min Swe’s health condition. This Irrawaddy reporter was present at the court and noted that Judge Thara Phi Aung did not appear to make a phone call before declining bail to the defendant.
The judge emphasized that Article 66(d) does not require that bail be granted to the accused.
Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing, who was released, spoke to reporters near the entrance of the court after having his handcuffs removed. He stated that police had reportedly requested the opinion of the ministry of transport and communications concerning whether his prosecution was necessary.
Because the article was published in print—rather than online—a decision was reportedly made that defamation charges under the Telecommunications Law were unfitting. Yet, as the individual responsible for The Voice Daily as a media outlet, he said it was also determined that the prosecution of U Kyaw Min Swe would proceed.
“I was put in jail almost 14 or 15 days before the court decided whether the trial would continue…Although there has not been a conviction by a court in this case, [U Kyaw Min Swe] has had to spend time in jail. I am really sorry for Ko Kyaw Min Swe and I will stand with him,” Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing told reporters.
Nearly 100 journalists came to Friday’s court hearing for U Kyaw Min Swe, wearing white armbands embossed with the phrase “Freedom of Press.” The Committee for the Protection of Myanmar Journalists also distributed flyers to the public in downtown Yangon, outlining their position on Article 66(d), and its implications for netizens.
Since the Telecommunication Law was enacted in 2013, nearly 70 defamation cases have been filed under the statute, according to a local research group led by Maung Saung Kha, a poet who was jailed under the same charge in 2016.
On Thursday, three Magwe-based journalists were charged with violating Article 66(d) by a village administrator for a social media post which accused a village of building huge brick kilns, raising environmental and legal concerns.