A court in Rangoon this week added to the legal woes of the chief editor and a regular satire columnist for The Voice Daily newspaper, accepting a lawsuit brought against the pair under Burma’s News Media Law.
“The Tatmadaw [military] filed the lawsuit accusing the defendants of violating the News Media Law’s article 9[g],” said legal adviser Khin Maung Myint, referring to a provision stipulating that with the exception of news in the public interest, “writing that deliberately harms the dignity of an individual or an organisation, and writing which negatively affects human rights, shall be avoided.”
The Voice’s editor-in-chief, Kyaw Min Swe, and columnist Kyaw Zwa Naing first ran into legal troubles in May, when they were informed that a member of the military had filed a defamation suit against them under article 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law for a satire piece that ran in the Burmese-language daily nearly two months earlier.
Kyaw Zwa Naing’s satirical take on Burma’s long-running civil war, written under the pen name British Ko Ko Maung and headlined “Oath of the Nation of Bullets,” was published on 26 March. The article coincided with the screening of “Union Oath,” a film that aired on the military-owned Myawaddy TV channel.
The offending article reads, in part, “When the number of soldiers of the lowest ranks killed in battle has reached a satisfactory point, the major leaders hold celebratory peace conferences from time to time. Only the soldiers on both sides of the frontline are shooting their butts off.”
A member of the Burma Army took offence, however, and lodged a complaint first with the Myanmar Press Council, saying the article had harmed the military’s dignity. The council, which is supposed to serve as a mediating body in cases involving disputes with the media, failed to do so and a legal case was filed against The Voice duo. They were arrested on 2 June.
“Since 17 May, when the previous case was filed at the police station, Colonel Lin Tun also filed the [News Media Law] case at the court in Bahan Township. On 21 July, the court accepted the plaintiff’s case. Today, British Ko Ko Maung and Kyaw Min Swe were officially informed about the lawsuit, filed under News Media Law [article] 25[b],” Khin Maung Myint told DVB, referring to the sentencing provision for violators of the legislation’s article 9(g).
“This is bailable. Bail has been granted after posting two sureties of 1 million kyats [$730]. There will be a court hearing for this case on 28 July,” Khin Maung Myint added.
Kyaw Zwa Naing declined to comment on his News Media Law case, but spoke out against prosecutions under article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law. The online defamation charge was originally brought against both him and Kyaw Min Swe, but a court later dropped the 66(d) suit against the writer, leaving The Voice chief editor as the lone defendant still facing prosecution under the controversial article.
“If lawsuits are repeatedly filed against media practitioners and writers under the undemocratic article 66[d] … it does not do any good for the country,” said Kyaw Zwa Naing, calling journalists “the eyes and ears of the nation.”
“In fact, I do not want anyone to use undemocratic sections of the law to sue journalists,” he added.
If found guilty of the latest charges under the News Media Law, the two men face fines of between 300,000 and 1 million kyats.
Under article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, Kyaw Min Swe can be sentenced to up to three years in prison. His case has helped galvanise growing calls for reform of the legislation as online defamation cases have soared over the past year.