Myanmar govt urged to release detained journalists

Editors, rights groups say defamation charge threatens country's democratic processes

Eleven Media Group chief editor Wai Phyo. CEO of Eleven Media Group Dr Than Htut Aung.
Eleven Media Group chief editor Wai Phyo.
Eleven Media Group chief editor Wai Phyo. CEO of Eleven Media Group Dr Than Htut Aung.
CEO of Eleven Media Group Dr Than Htut Aung.

Editors of the Asia News Network (ANN) and rights groups have urged the Myanmar government to release two journalists detained on a defamation charge over an article critical of the administration led by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi.

Dr Than Htut Aung, chief executive officer of Myanmar's Eleven Media Group, and Mr Wai Phyo, the group's chief editor, were arrested and charged under Section 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Act on Friday.

They were ordered to be detained without bail pending the next hearing set for Nov 25.

At issue is a column published by Eleven that accused the government led by Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), which won power by a landslide only a year ago, of having "rosy relations" with corrupt officials.

The column also accused a minister of receiving a US$100,000 (S$141,000) watch from a businessman who was then awarded with plum contracts.

The article was translated into English and published by several ANN newspapers, an alliance of 21 media outlets, including The Straits Times, in 19 countries.

It was also posted on Facebook.

Although none of the alleged corrupt parties was named, the Yangon Region government's Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein, a key NLD member, called a press conference last week, reported Agence France-Presse. He told reporters that the post "was intended to defame my personal dignity".

Yesterday, ANN editors expressed "shock and dismay" over the arrests of Dr Than Htut Aung and Mr Wai Phyo.

The incident threatens to "impede the democratic processes that Ms Suu Kyi and her party had fought long and hard for", the alliance said, calling for the two men's immediate release.

The call was echoed by Mr Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International's regional director for South-east Asia and the Pacific.

"Arresting and detaining these two men raises serious concerns about the NLD-led government's commitment to freedom of expression," he said.

Legal Aid Network released a statement saying that the case will make Myanmar media retreat back to the "dark ages" with no one daring to criticise the authorities.

It said the government led by the NLD and the Yangon Chief Minister should value Eleven Media in maintaining public interest with anti-corruption reports.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Myanmar issued a statement that expressed its "deep concern".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 13, 2016, with the headline 'Myanmar govt urged to release detained journalists'. Subscribe