Military agrees to withdraw cases against 6 journalists, 2 activists

By KYAW YE LYNN | FRONTIER

YANGON — The military has agreed to withdraw criminal complaints against eight people, including six journalists, the Myanmar Press Council announced this morning.

The office of Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing informed the council that it planned to withdraw the charges “as a token of recognising their cooperation in serving the interests of the nation and the people by sharing common grounds with the same intention”, the council said in a statement.

It said that the Commander-in-Chief’s office had also sought assurances from the press council that journalists would “strictly observe professional ethics in their reports” in future.

“The MPC would like to express its sincere appreciation to the Tatmadaw for their magnanimity and understanding,” said the statement, which was posted to Facebook by member U Aung Hla Tun.

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Members of the press council could not be reached for further comment this morning.

Three journalists arrested in northern Shan State in late June under section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act are expected to be released from custody later today when they appear in court.

Ko Lawi Weng of The Irrawaddy, and Ko Aye Naing and Ko Pyae Phone Aung of DVB were arrested after attending a drug-burning ceremony held by an ethnic armed group, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. If convicted they would have faced a minimum two-year prison term.

Lawi Weng’s lawyer, Daw Khin Mi Mi, told Frontier the trio was due to appear in court later today and she expected they would be released at the end of the hearing. She welcomed the move from the military, saying it was ridiculous to use “undemocratic” laws to stop journalists from doing their job. 

“We’ve been informed about the news and we are waiting at Hsipaw Township Court,” she said. “We are expecting to finish the procedure of having the charges withdrawn today. After that our men are free, free to walk out of prison.”

The press council statement also said the military indicated charges would be withdrawn against U Kyaw Min Swe, chief editor of The Voice Daily newspaper, and columnist Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing, who were facing charges under section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law and 25(b) of the News Media Law for allegedly defaming the military in a satirical article.

The case was the first under the News Media Law since it was enacted by President U Thein Sein’s administration in 2014.

The military will also withdraw a case against Ko Wai Phyo, chief editor of the Daily Eleven newspaper, who was facing a defamation charge under section 502 of the Penal Code for a story about the Kokang conflict last year.

The two other cases to be withdrawn are sedition cases filed under section 505(b) of the Penal Code against activists U Htin Kyaw and Ko Waiyan Thein.

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