Military sues two Voice journalists over satirical article

By AFP

YANGON — The military on Wednesday sued two local journalists under the controversial defamation clause of the Telecommunications Law over an article they wrote criticising the top brass, as fears grow over curbs on press freedom.

The latest story to anger the military, published in The Voice newspaper in late March, took aim at a propaganda film called “Pyidaungsu Thit Sar” (Faithful to the Union) lauding the army’s victories over ethnic armed groups.

The article took aim at senior leaders for sitting around holding peace talks and drinking wine while low-rank soldiers are being killed.

Ko Kyaw Swa Naing, who wrote the story under a pen name, said he would report to the police on Thursday over the case brought under the country’s increasingly used and broadly worded Telecommunications Law, which forbids “defaming or disturbing” people online.

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“I am determined myself that I won’t apologise to them for my article,” Kyaw Swa Naing, who is being sued along with the paper’s editor, told AFP.

“There is fighting everywhere and it’s normally lower-rank soldiers who end up dead while the leaders sit behind their desks.”

U Myint Kyaw from the Myanmar Press Council, a media arbitration panel, said the military viewed the article as creating “divisions” between the high and low ranking soldiers.

The case also comes at a time of heightened tensions between the government and Myanmar’s military, which still holds key levers of power after the National League for Democracy won the first free elections in generations in 2015.

Earlier this month, senior NLD spokesman U Win Htein accused the military of spreading rumours to destabilise the NLD, bringing an angry response from the Tatmadaw in the most public sign yet of simmering discontent between the two.

Hopes had been high that the party, many of whose MPs spent decades in jail for speaking their minds under Myanmar’s former junta, would usher in a new era of free speech.

But defamation prosecutions have soared since they took power in March 2016, with social media satirists, activists and journalists targeted.

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