A monk reads the newspaper in Yangon, Myanmar, in this November 9, 2015 file photo. (Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun)
A monk reads the newspaper in Yangon, Myanmar, in this November 9, 2015 file photo. (Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun)

Three journalists charged with defamation in Myanmar

Bangkok, June 19, 2017–Authorities in Myanmar should immediately drop all criminal proceedings against three journalists charged with defamation and should strike all criminal defamation laws from the books, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Htay Lwin, an administrator in the central Myanmar village of Maehla Taung, filed a complaint with police against Tin Shwe, editor of the MGY Journal, Zar Zar San, a reporter for the daily newspaper Democracy Today, and Phyupwint Nayche, a reporter for the Myanmar Times, under Section 66(d) of Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law, which criminalizes using the internet to defame people, the journalists told reporters on June 15, after they learned of the charges. Kyaw Soe, a police official, told the U.S.-government-funded Radio Free Asia that the reporters are charged with posting “incorrect information” to social media in late May regarding a government road project.

“Authorities in Myanmar should throw out the criminal charges against journalists Zar Zar San, Phyupwint Nayche, and Htay Lwin without delay,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “The increased use of section 66(d) of Myanmar’s Telecommunication Law is quickly reversing significant recent improvements to the press-freedom landscape in the country. It should be scrapped, and all pending charges under its provisions should be dropped.”

Several journalists face up to three years in prison under the law. Kyaw Min Swe, editor of The Voice newspaper, has been held in pre-trial detention since June 2 on charges filed under the law by a military official for an opinion column that satirized a pro-military propaganda film. The author of the column, Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing, who writes under the pen name British Ko Ko Maung, was released from detention and cleared of the charges on June 16 because he had not posted the article online, according to news reports. Editor Kyaw Min Swe was denied bail, the reports said.

In November 2016, authorities detained Than Htut Aung, chief executive of Eleven Media Group, and Wai Phyo, chief editor of the group’s Daily Eleven newspaper, under Article 66(d) on charges stemming from an opinion piece alleging high-level government corruption.

The two reporters were held in pretrial detention for 54 days before being released on bail. Than Htut Aung suffered a heart attack while in custody, according to media reports. Their trial continues.

On June 8, a senior Ministry of Information official told a visiting CPJ delegation that legislation would soon be introduced to remove criminal penalties under the law. The CPJ delegation raised a list of anti-press laws that CPJ believes should be repealed amended.