By SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER
YANGON — BBC Burmese Service journalist Ko Nay Myo Lin, who was jailed for three months on Monday after a yearlong court battle, is planning to lodge an appeal with the Mandalay District Court against his sentence for the alleged assault of a police officer while covering a protest last year.
The verdict against the Mandalay-based reporter had been greeted with dismay by local reporters, with one local journalist’s association warning that the sentence could cast doubt on the new government’s commitment to reforming the judiciary.
Along with several other journalists, Nay Myo Lin, 40, was covering a demonstration in Mandalay against the jailing of dozens of students during last year’s education reform protests. Police attempted to break up protest, with police Lance Corporal Ba Maw rushing onto the street to grab the handlebars of a motorbike in the procession and its driver to lose his balance and fall over.
Footage of the incident posted to Nay Myo Lin’s Facebook account the day before the verdict, since removed, shows Ba Maw’s attack on the driver and a verbal confrontation between the officer and the journalist. The video ends before the subject of Ba Maw’s criminal complaint to the Chan Mya Tharzi Township court, which alleged that Nay Myo Lin had struck the officer on his left temple during the altercation.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Myanmar said the incident arose from the scuffle between Ba Maw and the protestor and any injury was unintentional.
We believe that such a harsh sentence meted out against a journalist could tarnish the image of the new civilian government that espouses … democracy and reforms,” the club said.
Nay Myo Lin consistently denied assaulting the officer throughout the trial, with more than 20 witnesses present during the incident testifying to that effect for the defence.
Speaking to reporters outside court after the sentence was handed down on Monday, he said he had only tried to protect “a citizen who was unjustly treated”, and suggested that police had pressured the court to return a guilty verdict.
“We believe that Nay Myo Lin, while covering the demonstration, acted as anyone plausibly would in such a situation of confrontation,” Edgardo Legaspi, executive director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, told Frontier.
“We see the filing of charges and sentencing as an attempt to diminish blame on the police for breaking up the protest and the bad image resulting from their actions. Unfortunately, no one has reviewed whether the police action to breakup the demonstration was lawful or if their methods were … too violent,” he added.
Defence lawyer U Thein Than Oo, who represented Nay Myo Lin throughout the previous trial, told Frontier that an appeal would be lodged with the district court early next week.
Ma Zarni Mann, the wife of Nay Myo Lin and Mandalay bureau chief for The Irrawaddy, who is currently five months pregnant with the couple’s first child, said that her husband was in good spirits at Obo Prison.
“According to the lawyer, the appeal would normally take one month or more, but he will push to speed up the process,” she told Frontier. “We have a lot of support from our colleagues here in Mandalay and also in Yangon as well.”
Nay Myo Lin had faced a maximum three-year sentence under the charges.
After he was escorted from the courthouse by police on Monday, reporters asked trial judge U Tun Kyi increasingly combative questions about the justification for the verdict, according to Zarni Mann, who was present at the scene.
Denying that he had been pressured into the ruling by police, Tun Kyi replied that the testimony of defence witnesses was inconsistent with the statement made by Nay Myo Lin during his arraignment. The judge added that he had wanted to protect civil servants, and that a different verdict would have made police officers fearful of carrying out their duties — a response that provoked open ridicule from the reporters present.
Zarni Mann said on Thursday that the BBC had told her the organisation would “do anything” to get Nay Myo Lin out of jail and had pledged to support the reporter’s appeal. BBC Burmese editor Daw Tin Htar Swe told Frontier that the BBC would work with Thein Than Oo to support the appeal, but said she was unable to give further comment on staff matters.
Thiha Saw, the general secretary of the Myanmar Press Council, told Frontier the severity of the sentence was “a bit of a surprise for us”. He added that he did not want to comment on the judicial process, because the matter was the first criminal case brought against a journalist decided under the new government.