MYANMAR BURMA : Eleven Media reporter sentenced to three months for trespass while covering story regarding illegal movie rentals.
Eleven Media reporter Ma Khine was sentenced on Tuesday to a three month prison term for trespassing on private property after being sued by lawyer Aye Aye Phyo.
Ma Khine was sentenced by Loikaw Township Court, in Kayah State, after a one and a half month trial concerning events on October 27 when the journalist was covering a story regarding illegal movie rentals.
However, the sentence also came just two weeks after the Weekly Eleven published an article titled “When bags of money replace judges in court” that criticised widespread corruption in the judiciary.
Eleven Media has sent a complaint letter to the President, the Chief Justice and to parliament, requesting to probe any corruption or bias behind the decision. A court appeal will also be filed. Furthermore, Eleven Media is in contact with local and foreign journalist associations.
“If a reporter is punished and sued for the trespass while she is reporting, it is unfair. It is the media’s role to report on people’s actions. Our president has urged people to do fair and right things,” said advocate Win Shwe, who is vice-chair of New National Democracy Party.
Reporter Ma Khine was working on a story on the confiscation of pirated movies in Kayah State, involving rental shop owner Than Zaw Win.
Than Zaw Win was fined Ks 100,000 after a case was brought against him by local movie distributer Thawda Thein and was requested to pay the legal fees of the plaintiff.
Ma Khine explained that after interviewing the defendant, Than Zaw Win, she wanted to interview the person who distributed Thawda Thein’s videos, but could not meet him.
She then accompanied Than Zaw Win to lawyer Aye Aye Phyo’s house.
“We went there on the night of October 27 and the house owner Daw Aye Aye Phyo opened the door for us,” said Ma Khine.
“After Than Zaw Win apologised to Daw Aye Aye Phyo for not being able to pay the lawyer fee, I asked permission to interview her and she allowed it. Before I interviewed her, I told her that I was a reporter from Eleven Media,” she added.
When Ma Khine asked the lawyer how much she was charging in legal fees, the reporter said she got angry and called her father, Aung Shein, who is NLD chairman for Loikaw District. He requested them all to leave before calling the police.
The reporter has maintained that she was threatened before leaving the house, while Aung Shein says that she forcibly entered the compound and left the house shouting abusive words.
“Reporter Ma Khine accompanied the offender who was given a notice. They seemed to forcibly enter the house in such a way that they wanted to express a notice on lawyers and judges in the journals,” said Aung Shein back in November.
Eleven Media reporter Ma Khine was subsequently charged with trespass as well as defamation by lawyer Aye Aye Phyo and ordered to appear in court. Her father Aung Shein had appeared as witness.
“There should be investigation into trespass. Since judge and lawyer are assumed to have give and take each other, the case should not be judged quickly. It can’t also be the libel. They should announce what libel means for this case. I’m sad for it looks like insulting the fourth estate. I don’t want other reporters are afraid of reporting taking example from this. If then, the truth will be hidden. Therefore, such event should be concerned while we are building the democracy state,” said veteran writer and journalist Khin Maung Nyo.
Eleven Media has strongly objected against the ruling which it sees as an obstruction of the right to report freely over issues in the public interest.
“I strongly object such an event of suing a reporter for trespass. We demand the government and the judicial sector to handle the case fairly and to immediately release our reporter,” said Chief Editor Wai Phyo from Eleven Media.
“Both the charges and verdict are unfair. The case could have been settled with a fine. The case occurred when our reporter was covering a story. Moreover, the court held a trial very quickly and gave the prison sentence,” he added.
Eleven Media has also informed international journalist associations like the CPJ and RSF about the case.