Myanmar jails top media chiefs

Myanmar jails top media chiefs

Than Htut Aung, CEO of the Eleven Media Group, is escorted by police from the court in Yangon on Friday. He and his chief editor will spend the next two weeks in Insein prison while defamation allegations against them are investigated. (AFP Photo)
Than Htut Aung, CEO of the Eleven Media Group, is escorted by police from the court in Yangon on Friday. He and his chief editor will spend the next two weeks in Insein prison while defamation allegations against them are investigated. (AFP Photo)

YANGON: Police on Friday detained the chief executive and the chief editor of Myanmar's largest daily newspaper after a powerful politician accused them of defaming him in a Facebook posting.

The police detained Than Htut Aung, the flamboyant chief executive of Eleven Media Group and the newspaper's chief editor, Wai Phyo, after the Yangon regional government sued them for defamation over a social media post alleging corruption.

The pair will be behind bars for at least two weeks while police continue their investigation.

They have been charged under Myanmar's controversial telecommunication law, which human rights monitors have criticised as being too broadly worded.

The law prohibits use of the telecoms network to "extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb, inappropriately influence or intimidate".

Rights monitors have raised concerns over media freedom in Myanmar after a journalist at an English-language newspaper said she was fired following government criticism of her reporting on a crisis in restive Rakhine state.

The two journalists were summoned to the police station after the lawsuit was filed over the posting by Than Htut Aung, said Lt-Col Myint Htwe, the head of the Yangon Eastern District police force.

The journalists, who followed their newspaper story on Sunday with the Facebook posting adding details the next day, said their information about alleged corruption came from two businesspeople, whom they have refused to identify.

The editors and Eleven Media representatives, contacted by telephone on Friday, were not immediately available for comment.

Phyo Min Thein, 47, a former political prisoner and rising star of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said the allegations were intended to defame him.

"[The] post was intended to defame my personal dignity, [it's a] misrepresentation and it has disturbed my activities," Phyo Min Thein told a news conference on Thursday.

The two men were transferred on Friday to Insein prison and will stay in custody for two weeks, domestic media said.

It is up to the judge handling the case whether to grant them bail, said Ko Ni, a constitutional scholar.

A member of the ruling NLD was charged under the same law in a separate case this month for criticising the army and the commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Arrests of social media users whose posts are deemed distasteful have continued under the government headed by Suu Kyi, whose election last year was expected to usher in a new era of greater freedom of expression.


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