Bangkok, June 5, 2017--Authorities in Myanmar should immediately drop criminal defamation charges against Kyaw Min Swe, editor of The Voice newspaper, and Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing, a columnist at the newspaper who writes under the pen name British Ko Ko Maung, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Police detained the journalists on June 2, and have held them in pretrial detention on charges filed by the military, according to news reports.
Kyaw Min Swe told Radio Free Asia that police in the Bahan Township district of Yangon initially told them they were not being arrested, but were wanted only for questioning on charges the military filed under Article 66(d) of Myanmar's Telecommunications Law regarding a March 27 satirical article, headlined "Oath of the Nation of Bullets," that lampooned an army-produced propaganda film, "Faithful to the Nation." The Bahan Township Court yesterday denied the journalists bail and ordered them detained until their next hearing, which is scheduled for June 8, reports said. If convicted, the journalists face a maximum sentence of three years in prison and fines.
"We call on Myanmar's government to release Kyaw Min Swe and Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing immediately and to drop the defamation charges against them," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "Defamation should never be a criminal matter, and the use of defamation laws to silence journalists harks back to the dark days of military rule, not to the democratic future many hoped Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government would herald."
Myanmar authorities in November 2016 detained Than Htut Aung, chief executive of Eleven Media Group, and Wai Phyo, chief editor of the group's publication Daily Eleven, also under the terms of Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, on charges stemming from an opinion piece suggesting high-level government corruption. The two reporters were held in pretrial detention for nearly two months before being released on bail. Their trial continues.