A Myanmar court’s decision sentencing two journalists to prison with hard labour for allegedly defaming a military officer shows the need for the country to enact legal reforms to guarantee respect for media freedom, the International Press Institute said on March 19.
A court in the southern state of Mon on March 18 handed a two month prison sentence to a chief editor with the Myanmar Post, U Than Htike Thu, and a deputy chief reporter, U San Moe Tun, over a January 29, 2014 article in the newspaper headlined “A military parliamentary representative says they have to take seats in Parliament because of low educational standards.”
The lawmaker featured in the story, Major Thien Zaw, a member of the Mon State Assembly, claimed that he was misquoted and he brought a defamation complaint against the two journalists. However, the complaint did not target the freelance reporter who conducted the interview on which the story was based.
U Than Htike Thu and U San Moe Tun were charged under Article 500 of Myanmar’s Penal Code, a holdover from the country’s British colonial past, which carries a penalty of up two years in prison. Local observers said charges under the law are usually resolved through fines and that the sentences marked the first time in more than 100 years that prison time had been given out under the provision – including during Myanmar’s five decades under military rule.
IPI, which will hold its 2015 World Congress and General Assembly in Yangon from March 27 to 29, condemned the prison sentences.