YANGON — The lawyer for three Eleven Media Group journalists said the Yangon Region government had to take responsibility for not withdrawing its incitement lawsuit against the trio and preventing the Myanmar Press Council from stepping in to mediate, as per the president’s instructions.
Despite the journalists’ release on bail Friday, the Press Council said it would not mediate until the government dropped its lawsuit.
Eleven Media managing editors U Kyaw Zaw Lin and Nari Min and chief reporter U Phyo Wai Win walked free Friday afternoon after the Tamwe Township Court approved their bail request from last week.
The Yangon government filed a suit against the trio earlier this month accusing them of incitement under Article 505 (b) of the Penal Code for allegedly publishing false information relating to the use of public funds. They were arrested on Oct. 10 and detained at Yangon’s Insein Prison.
The lawsuit and arrests drew strong public rebuke from critics who pointed out that the offending article was based primarily on remarks by lawmakers in a Yangon Parliament session about a recent report by the local auditor general. The lawmakers themselves insisted the story was accurate.
The lawsuit prompted President U Win Myint to tell the Yangon government to follow the Media Law, which says the Myanmar Press Council should attempt to settle complaints against the press before they reach the courts. The Yangon government submitted a complaint letter to the Press Council following the president’s directive last week.
Since then, the Press Council has called on the Yangon government to withdraw its lawsuit because the body’s rules forbid it from intervening in a case that is already with the courts.
But the government has yet to drop the suit. Instead, on Oct. 19, it demanded that Eleven Media apologize for the article, but it has not said whether it would drop the suit if the news outlet complied.
The plaintiff, government official U Aung Kyaw Khaing, did not appear in court on Friday and could not immediately be reached for comment.
Press Council Vice Chairman U Myo Thant Tin told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the trio’s release on bail was not enough to allow the body to start mediating.
“Right after the withdrawal [of the suit]; only then can we intervene,” he said.
The journalists’ lawyer, U Kyee Myint, said he welcomed the bail but added that the government had yet to follow through on the Press Council’s request to drop the lawsuit.
“The president has given a clear order that the case has to be settled first with the Media Law. The Yangon government has to take responsibility for its failure. It should follow the president’s instruction,” he said.
Upon his release on Friday, U Phyo Wai Win told reporters outside the court that he stood by everything in the article.
The Irrawaddy reporter Htet Naing Zaw contributed reporting to the story.