A court in Burma Thursday ordered the publisher and chief editor of a local news magazine to stand trial after accepting defamation charges brought against it by the government over alleged corruption, raising fresh concerns over press freedom in the still-democratizing country, sources said.
“Dagon township judge Khin Thant Zin has accepted the case,” Kyaw Min Swe, editor in chief of The Voice told RFA’s Burmese service on Thursday.
The suit will next be heard in court on Oct. 5, sources said.
Kyaw Min Swe said that he will file an appeal in district court to stop the case from being heard.
“We will also appeal at the division level, and then at the federal level if necessary,” he said.
In a March story citing a government report to Burma’s parliament, The Voice charged that the accounts of several government ministries, including the Ministry of Mines, had been misappropriated from 2009-2011.
The Ministry of Mines then filed suit for defamation against the magazine, which was briefly suspended by government order later in the year for reporting on rumors of a reshuffle of Burma’s cabinet.
The ministry’s suit demanded that The Voice reveal the identity of the reporter responsible for its story. But in May, a Burmese court ruled that the magazine could still withhold the name.
Now, the suit appears set to go ahead.
Threat to reforms?
Thursday’s decision to proceed with defamation proceedings against The Voice threatens the progress of political reforms, including greater press freedoms, now under way in Burma, said the magazine’s lawyer Thein Nyunt, Agence France-Presse reported.
“The lawsuit between the government and The Voice Journal harms the reform process and destroys the image of the government.”
“It should be resolved as fast as it can,” he said.
Since a nominally civilian government replaced decades of harsh military rule in March last year, Burma has significantly relaxed restrictions on the press, including removing requirements that journalists submit articles for government review before publication.
Regulations against publishing information “harmful to state security” remain in place, though, leaving open the possibility of self-censorship and of prosecution after articles appear in print.
Reported by Thu Zar for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Richard Finney.