Government officials in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon said Tuesday that they will drop a court case against three jailed journalists accused of committing offenses against the state if the trio issues a written apology in state-owned newspapers.
Regional government director Aung Kyaw Khine filed the lawsuit on Oct. 9 against Eleven Media Group’s chief reporter Phyo Wai Win and managing editors Kyaw Zaw Lin and Nari Min over an article published the day before in the Weekly Eleven News Journal about the government’s business dealings and budget.
He filed the charges under an article of the Penal Code that deals with incitement and carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison, a fine, or both, saying that the piece damaged the dignity of the Yangon government.
Yangon officials say the story is false, though the reporters and others maintain it is accurate.
The call for a printed apology goes against a directive issued by Myanmar President Win Myint on Oct. 17 for the Yangon government to cooperate with the Myanmar Press Council (MPC) and try to resolve the complaint under the Media Law before taking it to court.
“The Yangon regional government should adhere to the instructions from the President’s Office,” said Myo Nyunt, spokesman of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
MPC member Myint Kyaw said Yangon officials have insisted that they approve the written apology by the journalists before it appears in newspapers.
“But the MPC can’t allow this, and we can work on this case under the Media Law only after the Yangon regional government withdraws the court case,” he said.
The Media Law carries fines for those determined to be guilty of offenses related to their responsibilities and media ethics.
‘Holding its ground’
Myint Thein, managing director of Eleven Media Group, said it is up to the three journalists to decide whether they want to issue a written apology.
Journalist and political activist Thiha Thway said Yangon officials will not drop the charges if the trio refuses to issue an apology on their terms.
“What the Yangon regional government is doing is different from the Union government’s instructions and what media people want,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “With the Yangon regional government still holding its ground, there will be more pressure and arguments against it.”
After Win Myint issued the directive, Aung Kyaw Khine visited the MPC’s office to discuss taking action against the journalists for allegedly violating four articles of the Media Law.
MPC officials told him that the Yangon government would first have to withdraw its court case before the body could mediate the complaint and possibly take action against them.
Deputy Information Minister Aung Hla declined to comment on the matter.
The three journalists have been held in Insein Prison on the outskirts of Yangon since their arrest on Oct. 10.
When Yangon officials filed a defamation suit against Eleven Media Group's chief executive and top editor in 2016 for publishing an editorial that accused the region's chief minister of corruption, the news outlet had to issue a written apology in state-run newspapers and retract the piece.
Reported by Htet Arkar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.