Bangkok, April 25, 2019 — Myanmar’s military should drop its criminal defamation case against independent news outlet The Irrawaddy over its coverage of the conflict in the country’s Rakhine state, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On April 12, the military’s Yangon Region Command filed the criminal complaint against the news outlet’s Burmese-language editor Ye Ni at the Kyauktada Police Station in Yangon, The Irrawaddy reported. The criminal complaint was filed under the Telecommunications Law’s Section 66(d), a provision that permits two-year prison sentences for guilty convictions, the report said.
The complaint was prompted by an April 1 report in The Irrawaddy concerning assaults by the military on March 18 and 19 that allegedly resulted in civilian casualties in Rakhine state’s Maruk-U town, which was published in both English and Burmese, Ye Ni told CPJ via email.
Ye Ni was allowed to post bail on the same day the complaint was filed, The Irrawaddy reported.
“This spurious criminal accusation against The Irrawaddy editor Ye Ni should be dropped immediately and unconditionally,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Myanmar’s military should stop using legal threats to stifle news coverage of ongoing armed conflict and allow journalists to do their jobs without fear of reprisal.”
Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, an official at the military’s True News Information Team, a communications department, told The Irrawaddy on April 21 that its recent news coverage on clashes between government forces and the insurgent Arakan Army had been “unfair” and prompted the legal action, the outlet reported.
CPJ’s calls to the True News Information Team requesting comment on the complaint did not receive a response.
Ye Ni told CPJ that The Irrawaddy has appealed to the Myanmar Press Council, an independent body tasked with resolving media disputes, to mediate the case, as permitted under the country’s Media Act to prevent frivolous lawsuits against journalists.
In an email to CPJ, The Irrawaddy editor-in-chief Aung Zaw called the complaint part of a military “intimidation campaign” aimed at silencing prominent media. Aung Zaw was a CPJ 2014 International Press Freedom Award honoree.
The criminal complaint against The Irrawaddy comes against the backdrop of the continued incarceration of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, whose final appeal of their seven-year prison sentences under the Official Secrets Act for reporting on the conflict in Rakhine state was rejected on April 23, as CPJ reported at the time.
Myanmar’s government and military have used Section 66(d) charges to stifle media criticism and intimidate and harass journalists, and CPJ has met with representatives of Myanmar’s Ministry of Information to advocate for the repeal of 66(d) and other laws and provisions authorities use to restrict press freedom and harass journalists.