Soldier Photographs Reporters at Article 66(d) Hearing

By Moe Myint 30 June 2017

YANGON — Journalists filed a complaint against a plain-clothed soldier on Friday who was photographing them outside the hearing of a newspaper editor being charged for publishing an article satirizing Myanmar’s peace process.

The Protecting Committee for Myanmar Journalists (PCMJ) filed the complaint against Corporal Soe Myint Aung of Yangon Military Command at Bahan Police Station under a bill enacted this year that was drafted to restrict state surveillance.

Dozens of reporters were outside the fifth court hearing of The Voice Daily chief editor Ko Kyaw Min Swe on Friday who has been prosecuted by Lt-Col Lin Tun of Yangon Military Command under Article 66(d) of the controversial Telecommunications Act.

Most journalists were not allowed inside to witness the trial, in which Ko Kyaw Min Swe was denied bail for the fourth time.

Corporal Soe Myint Aung approached journalists, including PCMJ committee members, and used his mobile phone to photograph their faces, as they interviewed the chief editor’s legal advisor U Khin Maung Myint under Shwe Gone Daing flyover after the hearing.

At first, the soldier refused to answer the journalists’ questions concerning his name and organization, but then he answered “territorial security,” according to the reporters. The Irrawaddy was also at the scene.

Soe Myint Aung then gave his service number and rank after calling an army officer for permission. The soldier was ordered by a high-ranking official to collect news of the hearing, he said. The plaintiff Lt-Col Lin Tun did not attend the hearing.

The journalists told Soe Myint Aung that by taking photos of individuals instead of a wider shot he was breaching the Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens law, which was enacted in March in order to curtail the state’s intrusion on people’s privacy with surveillance and the repressive security apparatus.

The journalists asked him to delete the photos, but said he only deleted some.

The PCMJ filed the complaint to police, saying its members were targeted. The police will reply to the complaint in 30 days, according to standard procedure.

Some reporters told The Irrawaddy they had been tracked since the beginning of the chief editor’s trial.

“The army is closely watching how we gather news,” said Ma Thuzar of 7 Day TV, who said she was photographed by Soe Myint Aung. “This is threatening the work and private lives of reporters. As far as I know, that kind of surveillance was carried out by ‘Special Branch’ officers previously—now the army does the work itself.”

Press Council member U Myint Kyaw said surveillance activities should be conducted within the legal framework, adding that a throwback to the activities of the military regime era would now be illegal.

“People who are individually photographed without committing any crime are having their privacy breached. We can’t accept such conduct,” he said.