Reform under spotlight in Myanmar defamation case

Defamation case against newspaper further questions Myanmar's commitment to reform

Reform under spotlight in Myanmar defamation case

World Bulletin/News Desk

The Myanmar government’s attack on a newspaper for publishing comments critical of President Thein Sein is “completely unacceptable” and a “form of censorship,” a rights group said Saturday.

In a further sign that there is a limit to the government’s appetite for reform, 11 staff at the Myanmar Herald are being sued for defamation after publishing an interview in which Sein’s public comments were described as “nonsensical, absurd and insane.”

Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign U.K., told Anadolu Agency the government “is now using many different tactics to crack down on free media and all of them are completely unacceptable.”

The case comes amid intensifying attacks on Myanmar’s press, which enjoyed a brief period of optimism in 2012 when official censorship was abolished as part of a series of democratic reforms following five decades of military rule.

In an interview published on Aug. 9, Myo Yan Naung Thein, a prominent member of the opposition National League for Democracy, accused Sein of talking “gibberish” and described his public statements as “irrational, cheap and inconsistent… completely nonsensical, absurd and insane.”

The Ministry of Information, which filed the defamation charges, said the comments “hurt the dignity and rights of the state leader.”

The defendants face fines of up to the equivalent of $1,000 in a country where the annual minimum wage is the equivalent of $400.

The case is notable as the government is also suing the paper’s distributors as well as other non-editorial staff.

“The new tactic of targeting distributors is a form of censorship,” Farmaner said. “Distributors will now fear distributing newspapers with content critical of the government, meaning newspaper editors are faced with a choice of only publishing articles the government approves of or risking having no distributor and the newspaper closing.”

The staff are being charged under a new media law that came into effect in March. Other journalists recently prosecuted under older legislation have found themselves in jail.

At least ten journalists are now behind bars in Myanmar, including five who were given ten years of hard labor in July for reporting on an alleged chemical weapons factory. The sentences were reduced to seven years on appeal.

On Friday, a journalist killed by the military while in custody was buried in Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital. His wife believes he was tortured and then killed while the military says he was shot trying to escape.

Next week U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Myanmar, where he will find himself under pressure to challenge the government over concerns about backtracking on human rights.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi warned the U.S. on Wednesday not to be overly optimistic about Myanmar’s chances of becoming a democracy, adding that reforms have stalled.

 

Last Mod: 08 Kasım 2014, 14:56
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