A Myanmar court has denied bail for the chief executive and top editor of a local media company who were arrested in November on defamation charges under a controversial article in the country’s telecommunication’s law, a lawyer representing one of the defendants said.
On Nov. 25, Than Htut Aung, chief executive officer of Eleven Media Group, and Wai Phyo, chief editor of the Daily Eleven newspaper, asked the Tamwe township court in east-central Yangon to release them on bail, with the former citing ill health.
Their request, however, was denied.
“The court didn’t accept the doctor’s recommendation letters for Than Htut Aung,” the businessman’s attorney Kyi Myint told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “The doctors who wrote these recommendation letters are government servants, but the court still declined them.”
Kyi Myint said he will appeal to a higher court for both men to be released on bail until their next court hearing scheduled for Dec. 9. The pair are being held in the country’s notorious Insein prison.
Up to three years in prison
Than Htut Aung and Wai Phyo were sued in early November earlier under Section 66(d) of Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law for writing and publishing an editorial that claimed that Phyo Min Thein, chief minister of Yangon, wore a luxury watch worth an estimated U.S. $100,000, given to him by an unnamed drug tycoon.
The tycoon, who had recently been released from jail, won a lucrative tender for the government’s term to build a city transit project.
Section 66(d) prohibits use of the telecom network to defame people and carries a jail sentence of up to three years and a fine for those who violate it.
The editorial appeared in the Nov. 6 issue of Daily Eleven and was posted on Than Htut Aung’s Facebook page.
The pair surrendered themselves to police in Yangon four days later after receiving a summons related to the defamation case.
Myint Kyaw, a member of the Myanmar Press Council, said that suing members of the media under Section 66(d) does not create a good image of the country and is used to only threaten journalists.
Thiha Thwe, a cameraman for Japanese broadcaster NHK in Myanmar, said hard-line authorities are no longer the only ones to use the statute to sue people for defamation.
“Now it is like a weapon for people who are wealthy or powerful,” he said. “And not only the government is using it against the media, but also individuals are using Article 66 (d).”
“This article has become a threat,” he said. “We have to push lawmakers to do something about it.”
Another reporter arrested
Meanwhile, authorities in the capital Naypyidaw on Tuesday arrested a local reporter and charged him with defamation under Section 66(d) for writing a letter accusing another journalist of lying in a report he wrote on a local market.
Maung Tun, who writes under the name Myoma Tun for News Watch Journal, was charged with defamation by Zaw Min Aung, a freelancer who writes for the state-run newspaper The Mirror. His trial is set for Dec. 13.
Maung Maung Tun wrote a letter to the editor in response to an article written by Zaw Min Aung on July 30 about Naypyidaw’s Myoma market, which set up operations within 100 days of the new civilian-led government taking office in April. In his letter, he accused Zaw Min Aung of making factual errors.
After he wrote the letter to the editor, Zaw Min Aung sued him under Section 66(d), Maung Maung Tun said.
“Zaw Min Aung filed a lawsuit against Maung Maung Tun under Section 66(d) in August because Maung Maung Tun accused him of lying in his letter to editor,” said Tin Moe Oo, a police officer from Pyinmana police station.
Reported by Aung Theinkha Thiri Min Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.