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International media, rights groups call for release of Eleven Media journalists

Nov 12. 2016
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By Asia News Network

Bangkok – Several international media and rights organizations have called on the Myanmar government to immediate release two senior journalists from Eleven Media Group, who were detained after a defamation charge.

On Friday, CEO of Eleven Media Group Dr Than Htut Aung and Chief Editor Wai Phyo went to a district police station and then taken to court. Later, they were sent to Insein Prison, with the next court hearing due Nov 25.

Both were charged on a defamation case by the Yangon Region government in which its Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein is himself a former political prisoner and a key member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

The case is based on the Facebook posting of an article related the first anniversary of the nation election, which saw NLD swept to power, but democratic and further development were checked by cronyism and corruption. 

The article which was also translated into English and carried by several members of Asia News Network, an alliance of 20 media in 18 Asian countries, as Eleven Media is a member of the network.

Both Eleven Media journalists were charged under the Section 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Act.

Asia News Network said in a statement that it is the duty of the government to ensure that the law was not used to stifle comment or to curb freedom of the press. 

It was important, the editors said, for a young democracy to not be perceived as draconian, or as reacting disproportionately to criticism.

While The ANN editors appealed to the authorities in Myanmar and particularly to State stressing that the law must take its course, the editors felt no useful purpose was served by detaining the two journalists without bail. On the contrary, such detentions would only intimidate the media and impede the democratic processes that party leader and de facto head of government Ang San Suu Kyi and her party had fought long and hard for.

The call was echoed by Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southeast Asia and Pacific. “Arresting and detaining these two men raises serious concerns about NLD-led government’s commitment to freedom of expression.”

Legal Aid Network released a statement said the case will retreat Myanmar media back to the “dark ages” with no one daring to criticize the authorities. It said the government led by NLD and Yangon Chief Minister should value Eleven Media in maintaing public interest with anti-corruption reports.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Myanmar (FCCM) issued a statement that expressing deep concern about arrest and legal action on Eleven Media Group journalists.

In contrast, the  Myanmar Press Council announced said it could not  intervene in a case involving the Eleven article “Myanmar: A year after the Nov 8 polls”, despite a request to do so by Yangon Region Government as the later need to first agree to withdraw its initial lawsuit, as stipulated in the Media Law.

On Friday Wai Phyo, chief editor of Eleven Media Group, said “We are here today as CEO and me went for being interrogated as we are charged with the Tele Communications Law 66(d) by Yangon Region Government. The 66(d) is an unfair law. Every citizen should get equal rights under the law. If taken action with 66(d), what I want to say is let there be fair and justice. We’ll be back for the truth. We’ll be back for Eleven for bring back the truth. Please stand by justice.”

Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein told a press conference last week that “The post was intended to defame my personal dignity, a misrepresentation and it has disturbed by activities.

Amnesty’s Djamin said,”Using repressive laws to stifle peaceful criticism of government officials could cause other media workers in Myanmar to self censor. State officials are not above scrutiny, and journalists have an important role in holding them accountable.”

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