Bangkok, March 10, 2020 — The Myanmar army should drop its criminal defamation complaint against the Reuters news agency and should stop using legal threats to intimidate the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Police Lieutenant Kyaw Thu, an official in Rakhine state’s Buthidaung township, said on March 8 that the country’s military had filed a criminal defamation complaint against Reuters and a local lawmaker under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act, according to a report by the news agency. The complaint alleged that a January 25 Reuters report about the deaths of two Rohingya women by shelling improperly blamed the Myanmar army, while the army said that the insurgent Arakan Army group was responsible, according to that report.
Convictions under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act allow for prison terms of up to two years, according to news reports.
Kyaw Thu told Reuters that authorities had not yet contacted the news agency about the complaint, and that police were seeking permission from the national parliament to proceed with the suit against lawmaker Maung Kyaw, who represents Buthidaung and was quoted in the story.
Reporters are banned from the area in Rakhine state where the deaths occurred, according to Reuters.
“Myanmar’s army should drop its wrongheaded criminal defamation complaint against Reuters, and cease and desist from using legal threats to intimidate the media,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “If Myanmar authorities were genuinely committed to accurate reporting on Rakhine state, they would allow journalists to travel there and do their jobs, and not threaten them with jail time.”
The Arakan Army denied it was responsible for the deaths and accused the army, according to the Reuters report.
A Reuters spokesperson quoted in the report said that the news agency stood by the reporting and there was “no basis” for a suit. The agency noted that it had not yet received a formal criminal complaint.
Myanmar previously targeted Reuters over its coverage of government-backed killings in Rakhine state, jailing two of its reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, for over 18 months, as CPJ documented at the time. The reporters were working on an investigative story on the killing of 10 Rohinyga men and boys by security forces and civilians in Rakhine at the time of their arrest in December 2017.
CPJ emailed Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, a military spokesperson, for comment, but did not immediately receive a reply.