The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Myanmar Journalists Association (MJA) are outraged by the conviction of two journalists on charges of defamation on Wednesday, March 18. The IFJ calls on the authorities in Myanmar to immediately repeal the sentence and ensure press freedom in the country.
Than Htiak Thu, an editor with the weekly Myanmar Post, and Hsan Moe Tun a reporter with the same paper, were charged in February 2014 following a defamation complaint filed by a military lawmaker against them. The complaint was made after an unnamed lawmaker from the southeastern Mon State was quoted making comments about military representatives in the parliament having low education, according to reports. The journalists were sentenced to two months imprisonment each, and have said they will appeal the ruling.
Than Htiak Thu and Hsan Moe Tun are the first to be convicted of defamation since 2011, when current President, Thein Sein, took office. Since 2011, a number of steps have been taken to improve press freedom in Myanmar, including the end of direct censorship of the country's newspapers. However, journalists continue to face arrest, intimidation and censorshop. 10 journalists are currently serving prison terms for other offences, while nearly 20 are awaiting trial. These issues are raising critical questions of Myanmar's press freedom.
Myo Min Htike, the joint secretary of MJA said: “The court decision is very harsh. The journalists should have received a cash fine, as is available under the Penal Code 505 B. Anytime defamation cases come before the courts, when the maximum sentence, imprisonment, is given it threatens journalists across Myanmar.”
“Repeated attacks on journalists, such as those who covered the student boycotts are a violation of the democratic rule of the reformed government. We, the journalists of Myanmar, demand a review of the case and if found in breach of defamation the journalists should only receive a fine.”
The IFJ Asia Pacific deputy director, Jane Worthington said: “The conviction of two journalists on defamation charges is an outrageous violation of press freedom and journalist rights. Defamation laws curtail press freedom and allow public figures to threaten and intimidate journalists, ultimately silencing them. Such laws also weaken accountability and transperancy.”
“We call on the Thein Sein Government to review this case immediately and repeal the convictions against the journalists. The government must also work to ensure that press freedom continues to improve, as it is a vital component of democracy.”