Myanmar’s de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Thursday that the arrests of three journalists in northern Shan state should not be seen as a problem between the media and the military, but rather as a question of whether existing laws are just and democratic.
Three journalists from independent, domestic news outlets were charged in late June under the country’s colonial-era Unlawful Association Act for covering a drug-burning ceremony held by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), an ethnic militia officially described as an illegal group. The trio will go on trial on July 10.
“This should not be seen very narrowly as three journalists against the army or vice versa,” Aung San Suu Kyi said, responding to a question by a Reuters reporter at a news conference with visiting Norwegian Foreign Minster Børge Brende in the capital Naypyidaw.
She said that if existing laws are not helpful to justice and democracy, then the judiciary should make an attempt to amend them, but that the administrative sector cannot intervene in judicial affairs.
“Rule of law means they have to be, first of all, just laws,” she said.
Rights activists say the act is one of many legal statutes used to suppress political opposition, often in the case of ethnic minority groups. It carries a maximum prison sentence of three years and a possible fine.
The act was used during Myanmar’s decades of military junta rule to detain persons linked to rebel groups, and continues to be used to jail those accused of contact with rebel forces in states beset by ethnic separtist civil war.
The arrests come as Myanmar journalists and rights groups have called for the repeal of another repressive statue frequently used by those in power to prosecute journalists for defamation.
Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act prohibits the use of telecom networks to defame people and carries a jail sentence of up to three years and a fine for those found guilty of violating it.
Journalists and rights groups accuse government officials and military officers under the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi of routinely using the statute to prosecute critics who post articles about them on social media.
At the end of the news conference, Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters that the national parliament has begun to work on amendments to Article 66(d).
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.