Ne Win San, an editor with the Development Media Group (DMG), a regional news agency based in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, and DMG reporter Ma Hnin Nwe are facing possible two-year prison sentences as a result of the lawsuit brought by the military under article 66(d) of Myanmar’s telecommunications law, which criminalizes defamation.
The military are suing over a story published on 10 January about the disappearance of rice supplies from a remote village outside Kyauktaw, a town in the north of the state, in which reporter Ma Hnin Nwe quoted villagers as saying around six soldiers stole the rice. He asked local Tatmadaw officers to comment on these claims at the time, but they refused.
“It is unacceptable for the Tatmadaw to bring a complaint before a criminal court when its representatives had every opportunity to give their version of events before the story’s publication,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “This misuse of the defamation law is almost certainly designed solely to intimidate DMG’s journalists and all other reporters working in Rakhine State. Such harassment must stop.”
The armed forces assume the right to dictate to any journalists trying to work in Rakhine State – a region from which nearly a million Rohingyas have fled in recent years and where the rebel Arakan Army is fighting for autonomy – and they have repeatedly harassed the DMG.
A criminal defamation suit was brought last month against Aung Kyaw Min, a DMG reporter based in Maungdaw, a city in the far-north of the state near the Bangladeshi border, over an anodyne story about the state of a bridge. Like 220 other websites, the DMG site has been blocked since March 2020 for supposedly disseminating “fake news.” It is one of the sites that RSF has unblocked under its Collateral Freedom programme.
DMG editor-in-chief Aung Marm Oo went into hiding shortly after the interior ministry issued a warrant for his arrest in May 2019 under the law on illegal association. He has remained in hiding ever since for fear of arrest.
Myanmar is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.