Authorities in central Myanmar’s Magwe region have charged three journalists under a controversial telecommunications law after one posted messages on social media about a dispute at a construction site and the two others commented on them, one of the reporters and a police officer said Thursday.
On May 28, MGY Journal editor Tin Shwe posted a message on Facebook saying residents of Myinkin village were opposed to road construction workers bulldozing area trees and another calling on authorities to investigate a businessman from Magwe township who had illicitly supplied bricks for the project.
Zar Zar San, a reporter with Democracy Today Journal, and Phyupwint Nayche, a reporter with the Myanmar Times, later commented on the posts about the project and the bricks, which are illegal to produce in Magwe region.
Tin Shwe, also known as Minbu, told RFA’s Myanmar Service Thursday that he was told the three of them had been charged under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, which prohibits the use of telecom networks to defame people. Violators are subject to jail terms of up to three years and a fine.
“In Magwe region, brick and sand businesses are banned, but some people are doing it illegally … [so] we posted about [this and the construction dispute] on Facebook,” he said.
“We have heard that Zar Zar San … Phyupwint Nayche and I were charged under 66(d) at Magwe’s No. 2 Police Station, but we haven’t received any notification from them.”
Kyaw Soe, an officer at No. 2 Police Station, confirmed to RFA Thursday that the three journalists had been charged for “posting incorrect information” by the head of Maehla Taung village tract—which administrates Myinkin village.
“Tin Shwe and two female journalists were charged under 66(d) by Maehla Taung village administrator Htay Lwin,” he said, adding that Zar Zar San and Phyupwint Nayche had been charged on June 10.
It was not immediately clear when Tin Shwe had been charged.
Kyaw Soe said the three reporters had traveled to the construction site at Myinkin village and told residents that brick companies are banned from operating in Magwe region, before posting information about what they had seen on Facebook.
Htay Lwin claimed that the villagers had no problem with the road construction project and that the Facebook post was false, he added.
“That’s why Maehla Taung village administrator Htay Lwin filed against them under 66(d), as he believes they insulted him through social media,” Kyaw Soe said.
“We have already questioned Htay Lwin and Tin Shwe. Tin Shwe said he will bring the two female journalists to us for questioning and after we question them, we will have what we need to proceed with the case.”
Article 66(d) is frequently used by those in powerful positions to silence their critics.
News of the charges against the three journalists comes one week after a Myanmar court rejected bail for Kyaw Min Swe, editor-in-chief of The Voice Daily, and the newspaper’s satire columnist “British Ko Ko Maung,” who were detained June 2 over an article that allegedly insulted the armed forces and charged under Article 66(d), sparking a protest campaign from fellow journalists who say it curbs free speech.
Days ahead of the court decision, more than 100 Myanmar journalists gathered in Yangon to call on the government to drop lawsuits filed against reporters under Article 66(d) and abolish the law.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun and Zaw Tu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.