Tuesday, June 28, 2016

IPI condemns prosecution of Myanmar journalists

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The Jakarta Post| Tue, June 28 2016 | 02:23 pm

The International Press Institute (IPI) has called for the dismissal of charges against three Myanmar journalists from Mizzima Media accused of committing cyber-crime as it could set a dangerous precedent for the country's press freedom.

Three Mizzima Media journalists, columnist Sithu Aung Myint, editor-in-chief and managing director Soe Myint and the editor-in-charge of Mizzima's Myanmar edition Myo Thant, were charged for publishing a column on Dec. 31, 2015, criticizing its rival Eleven Media’s reporting of a government-backed organization’s involvement in peace negotiations between defense forces and an armed ethnic group on Dec. 31, 2015. In the column, Mizzima asserted that the coverage 'distorted' Eleven Media's image.

The three journalists could face fines of 5 million (US$4,259) to 10 million Kyats or one to three years in prison if convicted.

"The case appears to be an attempt to make an end run around Myanmar’s News Media Law, which is specifically intended to address this type of complaint," said IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M Ellis said in a statement on Monday urging prosecutors to drop the case before the next hearing, scheduled for July 7.

Cyber-crime provisions were aimed at preventing criminal abuse of new technologies, not targeting unwelcome speech, he said. The case could overturn the system carefully established to allow media outlets to perform their vital role as a public watchdog and thus could set a dangerous precedent if the case proceeded, he added.

Eleven Media Group chief reporter Marn Thu Shein filed a criminal complaint under the Electronic Transactions Law over the column by Sithu Aung Myint titled “MPC or an organization distorted by some media” published in Mizzima's online edition.

Mizzima argued that the column was not acceptable as it only expressed the author’s opinion and did not identify Marn Thu Shein by name. Mizzima regretted that the complaint was made to the police instead of the Myanmar Press Council, which is assigned to mediate disputes before a case is referred to court, according to the statement. (rin)

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