Home Today's Paper Most Popular Video Gallery Photo Gallery
Subscription Blog Signin Register
Monday, May 20, 2019 09:41:59 PM
Follow Us On: Facebook Twitter Twitter Twitter Twitter

Press Freedom Myanmar Style

Where Govt Can't Overrule Any Action Initiated by Military

Share your thought
Post a comment »
Read all () »

Kyaw Zwa Moe :
The release of two reporters-Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo-delighted journalists in Myanmar and around the world. And while it was certainly good news for the reporters personally, I don't see it as great news for the country's media.
One reason is that the pair was released thanks to the intervention of the civilian government, but they should never have been arrested, as they were entrapped by the police. Their release offers no assurances that journalists will not face similar set-ups, arrests and charges in the future at the hands of security forces. Their release was a rescue by the government, making what use it can of its limited Presidential power.
When I heard the news on the way to The Irrawaddy office on Tuesday morning, I was overjoyed-but not surprised. Since the two Reuters journalists were sentenced in September 2018, I had been expecting that they would be released sometime around the Myanmar New Year's Day in mid-April.
On many occasions since then-at meetings with diplomats, and my foreign and local friends-I was asked if and when they would be freed, after they were sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for their reporting on the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims by the Army in Rakhine State in 2017.
My consistent answer was: "They are likely to be freed in January or April [2019]." Specifically, I said, their release could come on or around Jan. 4-Myanmar's Independence Day-or in mid-April for the traditional New Year, when the Thingyan water festival is held. During those times, the government tends to release prisoners to mark auspicious moments for the country.
Finally, my calculation proved accurate on Tuesday.
On April 17, Myanmar's traditional New Year's day, President U Win Myint, a vice chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD), started granting a series of presidential pardons to prisoners to mark the New Year holiday. More than 9,500 prisoners were released on April 17 and almost 7,000 prisoners released on April 26 in pardon announcements. In the last batch of New Year releases, the President granted pardons to 6,520 prisoners on Tuesday. Among them were the journalists Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, together with dozens of rights activists and members of ethnic armed groups that have fought for autonomy.
Why were they released within eight months of being sentenced to seven years' imprisonment last September?
Here, some details and background facts are important to make the right calculation. The police, who are connected to the military, entrapped Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in order to arrest the pair after they investigated the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims by Security Forces in 2017. (Police officer Moe Yan Aung confessed to being ordered to set the journalists up for arrest.) In order to charge the journalists under the British Colonial-era Official Secrets Act of 1923, the Home Affairs Ministry, which oversees the police, got approval for the charge from the President. But in the absence of then President U Htin Kyaw, who was in Japan at the time, Vice President U Myint Swe, who was selected as a Vice President by the military representatives in Parliament for the military's constitutional quota, authorized the arrests. In late 2018, the two journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison by the courts, which are not independent and have traditionally been influenced by military officials since the decades-long rule of the previous military regimes.
It is also true that the government, under de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, wasn't involved in the killings. And they didn't see the charges against the two reporters coming. But the government can't overrule any actions, decisions or lawsuits initiated by the military, simply because of the country's current political structure-devised by the former military regime-which is dominated by the military, its former officials in the government and its own Constitution, which favours the institution.
So my calculation-given the layers that make up the political spectrum in our country-was that the government was waiting for the right moment to free the two.
On the face of it, the government runs the country. In reality, it just wields a degree of executive power over a complex political backdrop in which the military is involved in every sector: in making laws in Parliament, in filling Ministerial Positions and making government appointments. That's why the government had to wait until the end of the legal process of the Reuters case and for a traditional moment when the President could grant his pardon according to the Constitution. It was the one great opportunity for the government to step in and release them, together with other prisoners.
I actually think that the primary purpose of this year's pardons was to free the two Reuters reporters. It's the method this government has used to free political prisoners since 2016.
Up until the day of their release, the story seemed so different. The International Community continually urged the Myanmar government to release the pair, in the face of what appeared to be a government refusal to do so. As a result, the "news" story that developed was one of unwillingness by the government and its leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to act. This is the story that swirled among diplomatic circles, activist groups and civic organisations.
This "news" even included talk that Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who as the commander-in-chief of the military is the real boss of the Home Affairs Ministry, had given the green light to release the two journalists, but that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was personally opposed to the move. Such "news" flowed freely at receptions and other gatherings of diplomats, critics, rights activists, and journalists. Well…it's hard to confirm such "news", much of which is- knowingly or unknowingly-fabricated. Personally, I struggled to make much sense of such "news".
All of this notwithstanding, it's wrong to see the release of these journalists as a significant step for press freedom or journalism. It's simply not the case. As I explained above, this particular case is not about press freedom as much as it is about the country's political context, and the military's desire to take action against these two journalists. I don't see it as "face saving", either, though the release has brought international praise and is intended in part to restore the government's image in the eyes of the International Community. In the future, when the military or other powerful institutions file charges against journalists, the government is likely to apply its current method of not interfering much in the legal process.
An exception to this might be in cases where the central government believes its own appointed officials, such as ministers or Chief Ministers, have acted inappropriately. We saw an example of this when Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein charged three local journalists and arrested them; the president officially urged-in the form of a letter-the chief minister, who is a member of the NLD, to follow the procedure laid down in the Press Law, which requires him to complain to the Myanmar Press Council and seek its mediation.
Furthermore, the government's ultimate political aim is still to establish full civilian rule through a gradual reduction in the role of the military in politics. It might take another generation to remove the men in uniform, given the resistance on the part of the military and its parliamentary allies to the efforts by the NLD and the ethnic parties to amend the Constitution.
As long as the charter remains as it is, the unfortunate truth is that we are likely to see more cases like that of the Reuters reporters. Last month, the military opened a lawsuit against one of our Irrawaddy editors. We sent official letters to the President's Office and the Ministry of Information, but I don't see the government intervening in cases where the military is the prosecutor.
That's why I said the release of the two journalists is good news but not great news. Relying on presidential pardons to free journalists who are arrested and imprisoned just for doing their jobs is not a healthy Sstate of Affairs. What we journalists need is proper protections under which no one can sue or charge us for doing our jobs.

(Kyaw Zwa Moe, Editor of the English edition of The Irrawaddy, Myanmar)

Add Rate

News Archive

Inside The New Nation

Football »

Qatar officials say 48-team World Cup will not be 'imposed'

AFP, Doha :The organisers of the 2022 Qatar World Cup said on Saturday that "there will be no decision imposed" on the country to extend the tournament to 48 teams.Anticipation is mounting ahead of the final decision, due to be announced in Paris at the beginning of June, whether to ...

Editorial »

Protect the rivers from grabbers

THE National River Conservation Commission has warned a dozen of government officials for their inaction to free the River Meghna from grabbers and take action within seven days. The Commission had earlier directed the authorities to take action against the grabbers but nothing had happened. Frustrated, the Commission on May ...

International »

Pope pays tribute to journalists who were killed; says press freedom vital

Reuters, Vatican City  :Pope Francis paid tribute on Saturday to journalists killed while doing their jobs, saying media freedom is a key indicator of a country's health.In an address to the Foreign Press Association in Italy, he urged journalists to shun fake news and continue reporting on the plight of ...

City »

Dr T Rahman Cardiac Care Foundation brought out a rally at Malibagh area in the city yesterday in observance of the World Hypertension Day 2019 to create awareness among people about hypertension and cardiac illness.

Entertainment »

Nisho, Mehazabien`s Eid telefilm Sheshta Sundor

Sheikh Arif Bulbon :Viewers’ choice popular pair of the small screen of present time Afran Nisho and Mehazabien Chowdhury worked together for an Eid telefilm titled Sheshta Sundor directed by Mizanur Rahman Aryan. They earlier worked together under same director’s last year’s Eid telefilm titled Buker Ba Pashey. Therefore, the ...

Sports »

Toronto Raptors' Kawhi Leonard shoots between Milwaukee Bucks' Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball playoff finals in Milwaukee on Friday. The Bucks won 125-103 to take a 2-0 lead in the series.

Cricket »

Tri-Nation Series win a boost for Tigers in World Cup

Bangladesh got a timely boost ahead of the World Cup journey, as they ended the final jinx, whacking West Indies past by five wickets, a victory that captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza cited as 'confidence booster' to chase any kind of total.Having set a 210 runs to victory in 24 overs ...

Editorial »

Assault on freedom of speech

THE New York-based Human Rights Watch on Friday slammed Bangladesh authorities following the recent arrests of some dignified persons under much-debated Digital Security Act. The HRW pointed finger about the raising worries among the common people over the freedom of speech and freedom of expression. According to media reports, poet ...

International »

Maduro hails start of Norway-brokered talks with opposition

AFP, Caracas : President Nicolas Maduro welcomed Friday the "beginning of talks" with the Venezuelan opposition in Norway, after months of bloody clashes between the two sides. "The talks have begun nicely to move toward agreements of peace, agreement and harmony, and I ask for the support of all Venezuelan people to ...

International »

Australian election vote count reveals close contest

AP, Canberra :The vote count in Australia's general election on Saturday was proving closer than opinion polls had predicted, with the ruling conservative coalition appearing more likely to form a government than the favored center-left opposition party.Opposition Labor Party deputy leader Tanya Plibersek had said in early counting that she ...

City »

BNP Standing Committee Member Barrister Jamir Uddin Sircar speaking at a press conference at the party central office in the city's Nayapalton on Saturday demanding release and proper treatment of BNP Chief Begum Khaleda Zia.

Entertainment »

Tragedy hits the sets of Amitabh,Chiranjeevi's next

Last week, a fire on the sets of Amitabh Bachchan and Chiranjeevi starrer Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy erupted, However, no one was hurt during it. But seems like another tragedy has struck the sets of the film. This week a 38-year-old Russian actor named Alexander died on set due to ...

Editorial »

China can`t be a bystander when Rohingya crisis turns critical

BANGLADESH Foreign Minister on Thursday stressed the need for strong support of China for resolving the prolonged Rohingya crisis with early repatriation of the displaced people. China's strong support would be necessary so that 'Myanmar moves in the right direction for resolving the Rohingya crisis,' the Minister told Chinese ambassador ...

City »

Secretary General of Manik Mia Foundation Syed Tosharaf Ali presented key speech at a discussion on 'Problems of Banking Sector' at the conference room of the Foundation at the Ittefaq Bhaban in the city on Friday with Prof Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque in the chair. The discussion was also addressed, among others, by Probir Dutta, Taposh Pramanik, Zakir Hossain Didar, Nasirul Haque Nabab, Rafiqul Islam Liton, Dr Sadiqur Rahman, Suvash Bhattachariya, Hari Prosad Mitra, Shafiqul Islam and Chitta Francis Rebeiro. After the discussion the participants were given Iftar.


International »

Taiwan legislature approves Asia's first same-sex marriage law

AFP, Taiwan : Taiwan's parliament legalised same-sex marriage on Friday in a landmark first for Asia as the government survived a last-minute attempt by conservatives to pass watered-down legislation.Lawmakers comfortably passed a bill allowing same-sex couples to form "exclusive permanent unions" and another clause that would let them apply for ...

Items that you save may be read at any time on your computer, iPad, iPhone or Android devices.
Are you new to our website? Do you have already an account at our website?
Create An Account Log in here
Email this news to a friend or like someone
Write a comment to this news