Myanmar’s military on Friday filed a lawsuit in Yangon against the editor and columnist of an independent newspaper under the country’s Media Law in the first such case in which journalists have been sued under the 2014 statute.
Kyaw Min Swe, editor-in-chief of The Voice Daily, and the paper’s satire columnist Kyaw Zwa Naing, who goes by the pen name British Ko Ko Maung, have been charged under Section 25(b) of the Media Law enacted under former president Thein Sein’s administration for publishing a satirical article mocking a military propaganda film.
Both men had been detained and charged in June with defamation under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law after Lieutenant Colonel Lin Tun of the Myanmar Army filed a suit against them in Yangon’s Bahan township police station on May 17.
On June 16, the 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.
Section 25(b) specifies a fine of 300,000-1 million kyats (U.S. $217-U.S. $724) for media workers deemed guilty of violating professional responsibilities and codes of conduct under three subsections of the Media Law.
The Democratic Voice of Burma news service reported that the military’s new lawsuit under Section 25(b) accuses the defendants of writing news in a manner that deliberately harms the reputation of an individual or organization, and which “negatively affects human rights.”
“I learned about this [new charge] from the court today, but I haven’t received any official documents yet,” said Kyaw Zwa Naing who attended a bail hearing for his boss at the Bahan township courthouse.
“If we media people commit any violations, this Section 25(b) should be used rather than Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law,” he said. “We cannot accept the use of Section 66(d) against us.”
After learning about the new charge, Kyaw Zwa Naing requested bail and was released on 2 million kyats (U.S. $1,448).
The court, however, denied Kyaw Min Swe’s eighth request for bail on the first charge, and he did not ask for bail on the new charge, said his legal adviser Khin Maung Myint.
Privacy-invasion lawsuit rejected
Also on Friday, the same Bahan township court rejected an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit filed by a group of reporters against an army sergeant and police officer on July 19.
Myanmar’s Committee for the Protection of Journalists accused Corporal Soe Myint Aung from the Yangon Division Military Headquarters of illegally stalking them by taking their photos with his cell phone outside the Bahan township courthouse on June 30 as they were showing their support for Kyaw Min Swe during one of his previous bail hearings.
They also filed charges under the country’s Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens against Bahan township police officer Aye Min Thein for not taking their complaint.
“The law says if a case is filed by anyone under oath, the police must accept it,” said committee member Tharlon Zaung Htet. “But the policeman concerned refused to open a case.”
The deputy commander of the police station decided that the army corporal had not violated the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens and refused to accept the case.
“We are now discussing with our lawyers about taking the case to the district court and taking action against the judge,” Tharlon Zaung Htet said.
Because the same plaintiff had filed the second suit in Bahan township court, the first case concerning Section 66(d) would have to be closed, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported, citing Khin Maung Myint.
The lawyer also said he would propose to the regional parliament that the charges against Kyaw Min Swe be dropped, the report said.
The court action comes as lawmakers discuss and debate a draft bill amending the 2013 Telecommunications Law, including allowing bail for those charged and eliminating the ability of third parties to file complaints.
Myanmar journalists and rights groups have called for the repeal or amendment of the section which prohibits the use of the telecom network to defame people and carries a jail sentence of up to three years and a fine for those found guilty of violating it.
Reported by Aung Theinkha and Way Yan Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.