The government of Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon dropped its incitement case against three journalists from Eleven Media Group on Friday, two weeks after it set them free on bail.
Chief reporter Phyo Wai Win and managing editors Kyaw Zaw Lin and Nari Min were arrested on October 10, after the media outlet published an article with a critical focus on Yangon government spending. Citing officials said their reporting incited public alarm against the government, but the three men stood by the story.
The three are not necessarily in the clear as of yet; authorities will attempt to deal with the dispute through negotiations with the Myanmar Press Council (MPC).
Chief Minister Phyo Min Thien of Yangon’s regional government said he would continue with the legal case if after the negotiations the journalists still refuse to satisfy his demand for an apology.
They were charged under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, a vaguely-worded section that prohibits the publication or circulation of any statement, rumor or report with intent to cause “fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offense against the state or against the public tranquility.”
Kyi Myint, the lawyer for the three said that they welcome the decision of the court.
Speaking of their ordeal, Phyo Wai Win told RFA’s Myanmar Service, “We choose to go to jail because we don’t want to apologize.”
He added, “I wrote this article according to what MPs said because the issue is related to people’s interest.”
Editor Kyaw Zaw Lin echoed his chief reporter’s sentiments, telling Reuters “There is nothing that went wrong and we have no reason to apologize.”
Meanwhile, the Myanmar Press Council’s mediation filed a request to drop another case, against RFA reporter Myint Zaw Oo, but the police have rejected it.
The Magway region-based reporter was charged on Nov. 3 under Article 68(a) of the Telecommunications Act for posting a question about a possible bomb explosion on Facebook. He was released on 10 million kyats ($6,300) bail from the Kamayut Township Police Station on Friday after testifying.
The Press Council sent a letter to the station in an attempt to negotiate, only to be rebuffed by the police who said they would follow law enforcement procedures and refer the case to a regional court. The court could, however, decide to throw the case out.
“I have been working according to journalistic ethics and feel safe because I live ethically as a journalist,” the reporter told RFA.
He said that he now felt unsafe, but maintained his innocence.
“All journalists are unsafe; [we] are under close watch. We have to work more carefully not to make any mistakes,” Myint Zaw Oo said, adding “I just posted an honest question, but police told me that they have to file [charges] against me because they were asked to do so [by higher level officials] because my post was scary fake news.”
Speaking about the Press Council’s involvement, the founding director of Yangon Journalism School, Ye Naing Moe told RFA, “Min Zaw Oo’s case should be negotiated through the Press Council and it can be done easily by talking face to face at the MPC. It is sad to see that government departments and ministries don’t accept the MPC even though it was formed according to law.”
More than two years after a transition to civilian rule under national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar has drawn criticism from both domestic and international press freedom watchdogs for its heavy-handed treatment of journalists.
Reported by Aung Theinkha for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Eugene Whong.