Myanmar officials pledge to reform law used to jail journalists

June 9, 2017 6:00 AM ET

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Yangon, Myanmar, June 9, 2017--Legislation to remove criminal penalties from a law used to imprison journalists on defamation charges will soon be introduced in Myanmar's legislature, a senior official of the Ministry of Information told a visiting delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists yesterday.

"We welcome this commitment to eliminate the most punitive provisions of section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law and we encourage the government and legislators to make the change as soon as possible," said Kathleen Carroll, CPJ board chair, who led the delegation. "No journalist should go to jail for doing their job in Myanmar."

The official spoke of the legislative change during a meeting in the capital of Naypyidaw with the Information Ministry's permanent secretary, Myo Myint Maung. The legislation will be introduced by the Ministry of Transport and Communication, which has jurisdiction over online expression, Myo Myint Maung said.

At a meeting earlier in the day, Tun Tun Hein, chair of the Bill Committee of the lower house of parliament, said no such bill had been presented to the committee, but that he favored press freedom and would consider any legislation as it arrived.

CPJ expressed its strong support today at a joint press conference in Yangon with PEN Myanmar for the campaign by the freedom of expression group, along with media organizations, calling for an immediate repeal of section 66(d) of Myanmar's Telecommunication Law. The law has had a chilling effect on freedom of the press, having been used to jail journalists without trial or bail on defamation charges, which can be brought by anyone.

Myo Myint Maung said he agreed that section 66(d) had been used almost exclusively with the aim of putting journalists and others in jail, and that with criminal penalties excised from the law, he expected it would fall into disuse. He did not say what would happen to journalists who currently face criminal charges under the law.

At the press conference, Carroll said CPJ had raised to government officials a long list of anti-press laws in addition to section 66(d); repeated attacks on journalists; and reporting restrictions imposed on both local and foreign journalists.

The government led by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi came to power 14 months ago with promises to strengthen press freedom and protect the rights of journalists. But restrictive measures remain on the books, prosecutions are frequent, and some journalists have been violently attacked.

A week ago, Kyaw Min Swe, editor of The Voice newspaper, and columnist Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing were jailed on defamation charges filed by the Myanmar military under section 66(d). The CPJ delegation called for their immediate release and said that all charges should be dropped. According to research by PEN Myanmar, since Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy came to power in February 2016, 61 defamation cases have been filed under section 66(d), including nine cases involving 14 journalists.

In addition to Carroll, the CPJ delegation included Senior Adviser Sandra Mims Rowe, Executive Director Joel Simon, Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler, and Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn Crispin.

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CPJ is an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.

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