YANGON—More than one hundred journalists staged a protest rally yesterday against the imprisonment of EMG reporter Ma Khine from Loikaw, condemning the unfair court judgment as a deliberate attempt to suppress media rights and the freedom to report.
While pursuing a story about the illegal trade in pirate video rentals, EMG reporter Naw Khine Khine Aye Cho, also known as Ma Khine, visited the home of lawyer Aye Aye Phyoe to seek an interview. The lawyer, unsatisfied with the reporter’s questions, sued her for trespassing, defamation and abusive language. Deputy judge Mya Min Han of the Township Court sentenced the reporter to a three-month jail term.
Such imprisonment for the three sections concerned has been widely condemned as a threat to the right of the freedom to report, and critics say the trial was unfair. On December 21, two weeks after the court’s decision, the Myanmar Journalists Network sent a letter to concerned judicial organizations to review the verdict. But there was no response from authorities over the imprisonment of the Eleven Media reporter, so the journalists decided to stage a protest.
Yesterday’s demonstration was organized by the Myanmar Journalists Network and held with official permission from concerned authorities. The protesters began their march from Yangon’s town hall to the Eleven Media Office in Tamwe Township.
“Today’s rally is aimed at protesting the imprisonment of EMG’s reporter by the Loikaw Township Court. The verdict is not supposed to be fair; moreover, it poses a direct threat to the right of freedom to report. We want this matter to be reviewed. The imprisonment of Ma Khine threatens all of our reporters. Such charges have rarely been used to sentence people to prison while they’re covering news. The judiciary is wrong here. It may be the instigation of the judge or it may be corruption. The judgment is intended to oppress all journalists in Myanmar. That’s why we have decided to stage this protest,” said Myit Kyaw, secretary of the MJN.
Aung Thura, chief reporter for 7-Day newspaper, said that Ma Khine’s prison sentence is not only a threat to free media but an attack on democracy itself.
“We are marching toward democracy, so freedom should be given to the media. No journalist should be charged with trespass, defamation or abusive language just for doing her job, like Ma Khine. We cannot accept this kind of threat. We are raising this issue to make the whole country and the whole world know about that. This is our response,” he said.
“If there is no rule of law, the government’s democratic reforms will not come true. If there is no right to legal process in this country, investments will not come from the international community. This is true. Some foreign countries are still watching the situation of Myanmar. The main root of all conflicts is a lack of rule of law and an improper judicial system.”
Sandar Maw, another journalist, said she joined the protest because she sees the judicial sector oppressing the media.
“We want improper acts against the right of freedom to report to stop. Ma Khine was sentenced to three months in jail because she was getting the news for the public. Punishments must be fair, not heavy. We cannot accept this improper punishment.”
Outside the Eleven Media offices, protesters shouted slogans such as “We don’t want any threats to press freedom,” “We want to obtain the news freely,” and “We want a fair judiciary.”
Lower House MP Khine Maung Yi, Min Ko Naing of the 88 Generation Open Society, political parties, and civic organizations encouraged the protesters, Min Ko Naing saying that they would stand together with the journalists for the sake of press freedom and a fair judiciary.
Eleven Media Group CEO Than Htut Aung thanked all the journalists who participated in the protest—not only behalf of Ma Khine, he said, but of all Myanmar citizens.
“There remain two problems with the democratic changes of our country. One is leadership, and it concerns people in the political role. Another is democratic institutions. Only with firm institutions can there be a lasting democracy. Our country has no firm institutions except for the Tatmadaw (armed forces). The media pillar is the one that should be solid. Our media institution will be one the country can rely on some day, when journalists can safeguard high journalistic codes of conduct, press freedom is valued and media rights are respected,” he said.
“I believe that the journalists here decided to participate in this protest because they wanted the rights of people to know the news, the right to criticise the newsmakers and right to determine the truth resulting from the news on behalf of the public. The protest is aimed at demanding press freedom to be able to protect the rights of the people. This freedom is not meant simply for Ma Khine or Eleven Media. The freedom does not concern the journalists. This freedom is a requirement for the emergence of a new democratic nation the people desired for more than five decades. In this state, press freedom should not be used for selfish interests. But we must have sufficient press codes. We will serve the people. That is why I thank all the journalists demanding press freedom on behalf of the people.”
Lower House MP Khin Maung Yi said that President Thein Sein has said the fourth estate is important for the country, and so has the Speaker of the Union Assembly parliament. The imprisonment of a reporter is not an ordinary matter between the judicial and media sectors.
“This was worse: it was an attack on the media. The media was the weakest among the four pillars because it had no power. The convicted prisoner was female and she is in jail. In 2014-2015, media people will continue to do their work. But the imprisonment of a reporter is a frightening sign,” said Khin Maung Yi. Continue reading “MYANMAR BURMA : Journalists from Myanmar Journalists Network staging a protest rally against the imprisonment of EMG reporter Ma Khine in Yangon”