A Yangon court on Friday rejected the fourth bail request by a Myanmar editor charged with defamation of the military under a widely challenged section of the country’s Telecommunications Law, as a group of journalists began collecting signatures outside the courthouse calling for the controversial article to be abolished.
Bahan Township court also rejected the request of Kyaw Min Swe, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper The Voice Daily, to hold his trial at different court.
“Although we submitted all required documents and pleas to grant bail for Kyaw Min Swe, it was again denied by judge for the fourth time,” Kyaw Min Swe’s lawyer, Khin Maung Myint, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Kyaw Min Swe also requested that the venue of the trial be changed because he believes he won’t get justice under the current judge, Tharaphi Aung,” he said.
“That request was denied, too,” he said. “This judge is not following legal procedures contained in existing laws.”
Kyaw Min Swe and the paper’s satire columnist Kyaw Zwa Naing, who goes by the pen name British Ko Ko Maung, were detained on June 2 and charged with defamation under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law after the armed forces complained about a piece they published that mocked a military propaganda film.
Lieutenant Colonel Lin Tun from the Yangon military command, who filed the lawsuit against the two men, testified at Kyaw Min Swe’s bail hearing on Friday.
“Lieutenant Colonel Lin Tun testified at the trial today that the military filed the case with the police in order to take action against Kyaw Min Swe under an existing law, but it did not ask that he be charged under the Telecommunication Law’s Article 66(d) specifically,” said Khin Maung Myint.
“Therefore, we are now requesting that he be charged under the News Media Council Law’s Article 25(b),” the lawyer said. “He will be found innocent and freed if the court properly follows judicial procedures.”
Kyaw Min Swe’s next court date is set for June 30.
A week ago, the same court released the detained satire columnist after Kyaw Min Swe testified that he was solely responsible for posting on social media the article that allegedly insulted the armed forces.
At the same time, the court denied bail a third time to Kyaw Min Swe, who suffers from stomach and liver ailments, because it said his lawyer had submitted an unofficial medical certificate from a private clinic instead of a formal document from a state medical facility.
Outside the courthouse, members of the newly formed Committee for the Protection of Journalists collected signatures of those who support the abolishment of Article 66(d), 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.
Journalists and rights groups accuse government officials and military officers of routinely using the statute to prosecute their critics.
“We will collect signatures until we get one million,” Sandar Maw, a reporter and committee member, told RFA.
“People from different states and divisions are joining this campaign as well,” she said. “We will send these signatures to the State Counselor’s Office, the military chief’s office, and the ministries.”
Committee member Tharlon Zaung Htet said the group had originally planned to hold its signature-collection campaign at the Yangon Division Military Headquarters, but local authorities declined to grant the organizers permission.
“We have plans to do more campaigns together with civil society organizations,” he said. “Our campaign will be up to speed by then.”
Mayangone township police said permission was denied because the campaign would have been held in a restricted area and could have posed a threat to public security, according to a Myanmar Times report.
They also said it could have created a traffic jam on the road leading to the military compound.
Discussions are meanwhile underway to amend Section 66(d) so that those accused of violations can be eligible for release on bail, the Myanmar Times reported, citing Myo Swe, director of the Post and Telecommunications Department at the Ministry of Transport and Communications.
The ministry will submit the bill to parliament via the government, he said.
Reported by Thant Sin Oo and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.