BURMA’S president Win Myint on Wednesday intervened in the case of three detained journalists by issuing a directive to the Yangon regional government insisting they cooperate with the country’s media council to resolve the case before taking it to court.
The government’s request comes amid mounting international concern over freedom of the press in the nascent democracy.
The letter directed Yangon officials to file an official complaint with the Myanmar Press Council (MPC) in accordance with the country’s media law, and work with the MPC to find a resolution. Only if this is unsuccessful should they then take the matter to the courts, the directive said.
Regional government director Aung Kyaw Khine filed the lawsuit on Oct 9 claiming an article written by reporter Phyo Wai Win damaged the dignity of the Yangon government, according to RFA.
Two executive editors from Eleven Media, Kyaw Zaw Lin and Nayi Min, were arrested alongside the reporter who wrote the article.
The three journalists were remanded in custody the following day after handing themselves in to police.
The article in question that criticised the financial management of the Yangon’s administration, specifically the funding behind the city’s bus network, which is overseen by a protege of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Uncovered in the article is a suspect transaction of US$100 million for a contract awarded without a tender to import buses from China.
Government officials claim the article is false and have denied any wrongdoing. The journalists, however, stand by their story.
Their arrest follows the high-profile convictions of two Reuters journalists, Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone, for possessing secret documents under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The pair were arrested in December while working on a report that uncovered the mass killings of ten Rohingya men at the hands of the Burmese military.
They were sentenced to seven years in prison in September despite a witness testifying they were the victims of a police set-up.
The case drew international attention and heaped pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi to intervene and issue a pardon for the pair. Once a strong advocate of press freedom, the Nobel laureate has refused to support the journalists, insisting their imprisonment was justified and had “nothing to do with freedom of expression.”
According to RFA, Aung Kyaw Khine visited MPC seeking to take action against the three journalists but was told “the Yangon regional government must withdraw the case from the court first if it wants the MPC to mediate or to take action.”
Government officials are meeting with MPC today to confirm whether they will drop the court case.