A Yangon court on Friday rejected the fifth bail request by a Myanmar editor charged with defamation of the military under a widely challenged section of the country’s Telecommunications Law, as a group of journalists added civil society groups to a petition calling for the controversial article to be abolished.
Bahan Township court rejected the request of Kyaw Min Swe, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper The Voice Daily, to be freed on bail citing a lack of “documentation” and saying that additional witnesses had yet to testify, his lawyer Khin Maung Myint told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“The judge rejected his bail on two counts,” he said.
“One reason is for not having enough documentation, although he didn’t specify what documents we need to submit, and the other reason is that not every witness has testified.”
Kyaw Min Swe and the paper’s satire columnist Kyaw Zwa Naing, who goes by the pen name British Ko Ko Maung, were detained on June 2 and charged with defamation under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law after the armed forces complained about a piece they published that mocked a military propaganda film.
According to Khin Maung Myint, the court intends to hear testimony from Lieutenant Colonel Lin Tun, who filed the defamation lawsuit against Kyaw Min Swe, but the officer did not appear at the trial proceedings on Friday.
The lawyer said that Kyaw Min Swe’s next hearing is set for July 7, at which time he will apply for bail a sixth time.
Earlier this month, the same court released Kyaw Zwa Naing after Kyaw Min Swe testified that he was solely responsible for posting on social media the article that allegedly insulted the armed forces.
At the same time, the court denied bail a third time to Kyaw Min Swe, who suffers from stomach and liver ailments, because it said his lawyer had submitted an unofficial medical certificate from a private clinic instead of a formal document from a state medical facility.
Kyaw Min Swe’s fourth bail request was denied last week.
Meanwhile, members of the newly formed Committee for the Protection of Journalists collected signatures outside the courthouse Friday of those who support the abolishment of Article 66(d), which 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 of routinely using the statute to prosecute their critics under the civilian government of de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Khin Maung Myint said the group had expanded the scope of the petition, which was launched at Kyaw Min Swe’s trial last week, “with the intention of including support from civil society.”
“Former political prisoners, [pro-democracy] 88 Generation Student Group members, [pro-democracy] Generation Wave members, [rights group] Equality Myanmar members and other civil society organizations joined the campaign today,” he said.
Ye Lin Tun, a member of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, told RFA that his group intends to lobby the highest echelons of government over what it sees as a highly controversial law after reaching its goal of one million signatures.
“We will send the collected signatures to the state counselor, president, parliamentarians, and military chief, and ask them to abolish 66(d),” he said.
Another member of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, Tharlon Zaung Htet, said the group “will fight to secure our rights, according to the law.”
Aung Myo Min, the director of Equality Myanmar, told RFA that “the dignity of the country is at risk of being destroyed by the oppression of the media.”
“This is especially true under a civilian government, and it can undermine the faith of the international community that Myanmar is moving towards democracy,” he said.
Committee members claimed that Corporal Soe Myint Aung from the Yangon Division Military Headquarters was taking photos of every journalist outside of the courthouse Friday and said they had asked the Bahan Township Police Station to file charges against him under the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of the Citizen.
The police station formally accepted the filing against Soe Myint Aung, they said, but has yet to charge him.
On Thursday, more than 60 domestic and international rights groups called on Myanmar’s government to repeal Article 66(d) or, at the least, decriminalize defamation.
The rights organizations, which include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and U.S. Campaign for Burma, urged the Ministry of Transport and Communications, which has been discussing revisions to the Telecommunications Law, to remove the article from the amended legislation.
Reported by Thant Sin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.