- Analysis: Government Turning Back the Clock on Press Freedom
- Press Freedom and the Invisible Line
- Timeline: Journalists Under Attack
- Ava Tailor Shop Family Sentenced in Abuse Case
- Mandalay Govt to Confiscate Plots Granted by Prior Administration
- Companies Law to Take Effect August 1: DICA
- At Least 6,700 Rohingya Killed in ‘Horrific’ Myanmar Violence, Charity Says
- Finance Minister Admits Economy is Underperforming
Posted: 15 Dec 2017 06:55 AM PST
On the evening of Dec. 13, an image of two detained reporters appeared on the Ministry of Information's Facebook page. It showed the two men handcuffed to each other and made to stand behind a table. In a departure from the ministry's usual practice, their faces were clearly visible. The photo has prompted an angry reaction on the part of many Myanmar journalists toward the MOI. On the table in front of the pair are two mobile phones and a number of documents found in their bags. To many observers, the ministry's treatment of the pair as common criminals — or worse, given that it did try to conceal their identities — is a step too far.
According to the MOI, Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were detained on Tuesday night in Yangon after approaching police who had recently participated in clashes against the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in Maungdaw, about obtaining documents to assist in their coverage of the conflict.
The MOI claims the reporters tried to steal documents in order to sell them to international media. In fact, as reporters for an international news agency, they were planning to share the information with senior editorial staff, which is part of their job. The MOI, which has been criticized as a government propaganda arm, deliberately distorted the facts of the case.
On social media, some people posted messages urging a boycott of state-run newspapers. Some people even said the MOI violated media ethics by posting the photos without obscuring the reporters' identities. The Yangon Journalism School has stopped training MOI personnel to protest the dissemination of the photograph.
U Than Oo, editor of the state-run Myanmar News Agency, said that the MOI cannot change the facts it receives from the Interior Ministry. "We report the news according to journalistic ethics and based on the facts. We can't change the facts."
Regarding the decision not to black out the reporters' faces, U Than Oo suggested The Irrawaddy consult the news editors of the newspapers that ran the picture. At any rate, he added, "Everyone knows who the perpetrators were, so it was unnecessary to black out their faces in the photo."
He said the MOI usually blacks out the faces of people who have been accused of a crime but not yet convicted.
"We know [the reporters] were the perpetrators. This is my understanding," he said.
The MOI initially posted the image online, without obscuring the faces. It later blacked them out after the post drew harsh criticism. On Thursday, however, the image appeared with the faces visible in two state-run newspapers, Myanmar Alin and The Mirror Daily.
The MOI normally blacks out the faces of arrested people in photos posted online.
The director of the Yangon Journalism School said the MOI's action had damaged the reporters' reputations. In protest, two trainers from the school had decided to cancel a weeklong training session for MOI staff in Naypyidaw.
"This wasn't a joint training program with the MOI, but they had asked us for help. Some of our trainers had agreed to help by holding a training session this month. But, when we saw the report attacking Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, and the way the photo of the pair was used, in our view this offends their dignity.
"Our trainers felt bad, so they decided not to provide the training, which was supposed to have lasted for a week in Naypyidaw," YSJ director U Ye Naing Moe told The Irrawaddy.
The MOI is trying to create problems between the people and the media. It uses taxpayers' money but makes propaganda for the government," said U Zay Yar Hlaing, editor of Maw Kun (Archive) magazine.
"The MOI's action was inappropriate and aimed at turning the people against the media. Their report was an act of government propaganda," he said.
Direct censorship of news media no longer exists in Myanmar, but journalists come under pressure in other ways as they try to fulfill the two aspects of their job; gathering and publishing facts. Instead of censoring articles as in the past, these days authorities are more likely to, for example, block reporters from traveling to areas like Maungdaw to report.
Another form of censorship is charging reporters with serious offenses. This is censorship through intimidation. Authorities also publish false information in order to mislead the public about the media.
"Parliament cannot control the government. So when the media tries to exert pressure, the government acts against it," said U Zay Yar Hlaing.
This shows that Myanmar is still subject to serious censorship, he said, adding that things were occurring on the ground in Maungdaw that the government did not want the domestic or international media to know.
Myanmar appears to be turning back the clock on press freedom, critics say, with authorities using various charges to prosecute journalists, just as previous military governments did. The government has used articles including 66 (d) (defamation law), 17 (1) (unlawful association), the trespassing law, and, as in the case of the Reuters reporters, the Official Secrets Act.
The arrest of the two reporters showed that the media in Myanmar is under threat, said Mratt Kyaw Thu, a reporter from Frontier Myanmar.
"Personally, I didn’t expect much in the way of media reform from this government, especially for our journalism industry, much less the Army. But when I saw [the arrested journalists] in the paper and on government social media, I was just….damn!” he said.
The post Analysis: Government Turning Back the Clock on Press Freedom appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 15 Dec 2017 06:38 AM PST
Do we have press freedom in Myanmar? Yes, we do, but with an invisible line. No one can know where that line is because it's unseen. When you touch or cross it, you're finished.
Two journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, crossed that line, and they found themselves in custody on Tuesday.
Police charged the pair of Reuters reporters under the Official Secrets Act because they possessed leaked internal security reports related to fighting between border guard forces and a Muslim militant group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in August. If found guilty, they could face up to 14 years in prison.
Myanmar's Official Secrets Act, enacted in 1923 under British colonial rule, is just one among many elements of the invisible line being used against the press and its practitioners.
The invisible line is now a threat to press freedom — a staple of democracy — just as the draconian censorship mechanism was under the former military regime.
In 2017 alone, 11 journalists from different publications were arrested after running critical and satirical stories about military and government officials. They crossed the invisible line.
They were charged with different laws, including Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act, the Aircraft Act and now the Official Secrets Act. The previous administration used other laws, such as Article 502 of the Penal Code for defamation and Article 131 for abetting mutiny or attempting to seduce military officers and soldiers.
The prosecutors ranged from police officers to high-ranking military and government officials and nationalists. Their victims include journalists from different publications such as The Irrawaddy, Democratic Voice of Burma, Myanmar Now, The Voice, 7Days and Reuters.
Judging from the pattern, many more laws could be added to the invisible line whenever prosecutors feel the need to extend it. That is, the line can be moved to reach any journalist if needed, especially when someone in power feels annoyed with their reporting.
Back in September, when the military withdrew its cases against six journalists and two activists, clearing the way for the journalists' release, we felt as though the press environment might be improving.
I personally hoped there would be no ugly cases like those again.
But the arrest of the two Reuters journalists on Tuesday signaled that Myanmar is still an unsafe environment for journalists to do their job – even simply to gather information.
Worse, the cases happened with a democratic government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) is power.
In 2015, the NLD clearly stated in its election manifesto: "The news media is the eyes and ears of the people. We will ensure that the media has the right to stand independently in accordance with self-regulation of matters relating to ethics and dignity, and the right to gather and disseminate news."
It's a shame for the NLD government to have let nearly a dozen journalists be arrested — less than two years after coming to power. We haven't seen any tangible attempt by the NLD government to stop such attacks against the media, which has played an important role in the country's transition from military rule.
We are eager to find out how democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her government will respond.
For now, we feel more vulnerable in doing our job professionally and properly than we did under military rule. In those days, with pre-censorship in place, we knew if we were crossing the line. The worst-case scenario was that our story would be scrapped by the then-censorship board.
This is the reality that we Myanmar journalists are facing in doing our job. The question now is whether the democratic government is truly aware of the risks journalists are facing and interested in getting rid of that invisible line.
Posted: 15 Dec 2017 04:50 AM PST
YANGON — The recent arrest of two Reuters journalists, Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, under the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act has raised anxieties about shrinking press freedom in Myanmar.
Local journalist networks and news organizations strongly criticized the arrest as the latest attack on the press and called for the pair's immediate release.
"We journalists absolutely believe that journalists have the right to travel to conflict zones as well as gather information from relevant sources in order to produce accurate reports," a joint statement from 12 journalists networks said.
The pair's arrest is but the latest in a growing list of cases of journalists being taken to court by some of the country's most powerful institutions, including the military.
A total of 11 journalists were arrested this year under various repressive laws, including the Official Secrets Act and the Unlawful Associations Act, and on defamation charges for gathering information or travelling to conflict areas for their work and for criticizing officials.
Here, The Irrawaddy has compiled a list of the reporters arrested in 2017.
Official Secrets Act
Two Reuters journalists, Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, were detained on Tuesday night after being invited to meet with police officials on Yangon's outskirts for possessing police reports containing detailed information about the fighting between government troops and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in late August 2017.
Two policemen were also arrested for allegedly providing the documents to the reporters.
The police opened the case under the Official Secrets Act's Article 3, which allows for prison sentences of up to 14 years. The policemen were charged under both the Official Secrets Act and the Myanmar Police Force Maintenance of Discipline Law.
Turkish state broadcaster TRT World Producer Mok Choy Lin, from Malaysia, freelance camera operator Lau Hon Meng, from Singapore, and two Myanmar citizens — their interpreter Ko Aung Naing Soe and driver U Hla Tin — were detained on Oct. 27 for attempting to fly a drone near Myanmar's Parliament in Naypyitaw.
They were sentenced to two months in jail by a Naypyitaw court on Nov. 1 under the 1934 colonial-era Myanmar Aircraft Act for filming with a drone. They were also charged under the 2012 Export and Import Law for illegally bringing the drone into the country — which carries a penalty of up to three years in prison.
The two foreign journalists were also charged with violating Section 13 (1) of the 1947 Immigration Act on Nov. 27, after their visas expired while in custody.
Unlawful Associations Act
The Irrawaddy's senior reporter Lawi Weng, also known as U Thein Zaw, and Democratic Voice of Burma reporters U Aye Nai and Ko Pyae Phone Aung were arrested by the Myanmar Army on their way back from a reporting trip to northern Shan State on June 26. They traveled to an area controlled by the Ta'ang National Liberation Army to cover a drug-burning ceremony marking a UN-designated day against drug abuse. The military filed the lawsuit against the journalists under Article 17 (1) of the Unlawful Associations Act and transferred them to Hsipaw Prison in Shan State on June 28, after they had been detained at an undisclosed location for nearly three days.
After detaining the journalists for more than two months, the military withdrew its case against them on Sept. 1.
The Voice Daily Chief Editor U Kyaw Min Swe and satirical columnist Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing, also known by his pen name British Ko Ko Maung, were arrested by police on June 2 after the Myanmar Army filed a lawsuit against them. The pair was charged under Article 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Law and Article 25 (b) of the Media Law for allegedly defaming the military in a satirical article. Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing was later released and then acquitted of violating Article 66 (d) on June 16.
The military withdrew its case against them on Sept. 1.
Myanmar Now Editor-in-Chief Ko Swe Win was arrested at Yangon International Airport on July 30 on his way to Bangkok for a short work trip ahead of a court hearing in Myanmar and transferred to Mandalay to face defamation charges. He was released on bail the next day.
Ko Swe Win had two related cases filed against him in March. One was filed by a follower of ultranationalist monk U Wirathu in Mandalay. The other was filed by a nationalist in Yangon. Both accused him of insulting U Wirathu after he shared a Myanmar Now news story quoting a senior abbot saying the monk was no longer in the monkhood because he had praised the assassins who killed National League for Democracy legal adviser U Ko Ni. The latter case was later dismissed by a judge. The former is currently at trial.
Posted: 15 Dec 2017 03:39 AM PST
YANGON — Yangon's western district court sentenced four family members who own the Ava Tailor Shop to 13 years and up for torturing two young domestic workers. Two other family members were acquitted.
The verdicts came after more than one year of testimony from both sides totaling some 20 witnesses since October 2016.
The case of the two abused teenagers was first reported by Myanmar Now editor Ko Swe Win. The girls were freed from the home of their abusers, and the family was arrested after a widespread public outcry.
In May, six family members were charged. Tin Thuzar, her daughter Su Mon Latt and son Tin Ko Latt, and son-in-law Yar Zar Tun were charged under the Anti-trafficking in Persons Law, Penal Code 326 for voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons and means, and the 1993 Child Law.
Tin Thuzar and Su Mon Latt received 16 years and one month each, Yar Zar Tun was sentenced to 13 years and one month and Tin Ko Latt received nine years and one month.
Father and husband U Ko Latt and daughter Thiri Latt were charged under the first two laws but they were acquitted as the court found no evidence tying them to the case.
Lawyer Daw Hnin Su Aung said she shared mixed feelings as her client, Thiri Latt, was freed but the others were sentenced with harsh punishments.
The district judge said the culprits could appeal at the regional court in regard to the Friday verdicts.
Daw Thandar, the mother of Yar Zar Tun, told The Irrawaddy that she would file an appeal to a higher court.
"My son is not guilty and I will appeal at higher courts as long as possible," she said.
The two victims, Ma San Kay Khaing 17, and Ma Thazin, 18, had to undergo numerous operations for injuries sustained from years of torture, but they are recovering. The pair is from a village on the outskirts of Yangon. They had worked for the Ava Tailor Shop family since they were 10.
Prior to hearing the case, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission tried to intervene in the case by telling the victims' families to accept monetary compensation. Due to public outrage, commission member U Zaw Win left his position.
The Ava case has highlighted widespread inhumane treatment of housemaids, especially those who are underage in Myanmar. The case drew public condemnation and set an example for others to report similar cases in the future.
Posted: 14 Dec 2017 11:02 PM PST
MANDALAY — The Mandalay regional government will take back control of 135 plots of land that were granted or leased by the previous government during last year's power transfer and believed to have violated procedures.
Mandalay Region Chief Minister Zaw Myint Maung announced the plan in response to a report reviewing the division government's land grants during the power transfer. The review was carried out by Mandalay government officials and lawmakers and submitted to Parliament on Tuesday.
"We should terminate the contracts that were awarded in violation of leasing procedures, national land use policy, and laws and regulations, and take the plots back," the chief minister said.
Parliament gave the regional government the green light to proceed.
"We found that up to 20 grants were issued in a single day, as well as other suspicious things involving leasing procedures. So there are reasons to believe that there was some dishonesty," Mandalay Division Planning and Finance Minister U Myat Thu, who led the investigation, told The Irrawaddy.
The government will confiscate the plots and pay the owners back what they paid the previous government in rent. Most of the plots are in Pyi Gyi Tagun, Chanmyathazi and Maha Aungmyay townships.
"Some paid the right price for rent, but some paid much less. We are still calculating the market price of the plots now," said U Myat Thu.
U Zaw Myint Maung said his government would also take action against department staff who were involved in the deals. He said the confiscated plots would be used for public projects.
In June last year, lawmaker U Myint Aung Moe, of Chanmyathazi Township, submitted a proposal to the regional Parliament suggesting a review of unused plots granted by the previous government during the power transfer. Parliament formed a team to investigate.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.
The post Mandalay Govt to Confiscate Plots Granted by Prior Administration appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 14 Dec 2017 10:37 PM PST
YANGON — Myanmar's new Companies Law replacing the colonial-era Myanmar Companies Act of 1914 will come into effect as of August 1 next year, according to the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA).
"All the preparations to apply the law should be completed before next August. So, the law will be brought into effect on August 1," said director-general of DICA U Aung Naing Oo at the briefing of the law on Wednesday in Yangon.
Until then, DICA will conduct a trial for electronic registration of companies, hold discussions with stakeholders and educate the public about the new piece of legislation, according to U Aung Naing Oo,
The new law combines elements of the Myanmar Companies Act of 1914 and the Special Companies Act of 1950, reworked in hopes of attracting foreign investment, Deputy Minister for Planning and Finance U Maung Maung Win told Parliament as he submitted the draft law in July.
The eight-part law was formulated with input from the attorney general's office, concerned ministries and economic partners plus technical assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
There are more than 60,000 companies registered with DICA under the old law, and those companies will have to register online under the new law over the next six months, he said.
"Online registration is not complicated. It is just filling out forms," said U Aung Naing Oo.
The new law no longer defines any company in which a foreigner holds a minimum 1 percent of shares as a foreign-owned company, but only those where foreign ownership exceeds 35 percent, said U Aung Naing Oo.
The new law will also allow foreigners to own condominium flats and moveable property, according to U Aung Naing Oo.
"The old law requires two persons to set up a private company. But the new law only requires one. The old law requires seven persons to set up a public company, now it only needs three. And companies with 35 percent of foreign ownership will be treated as citizen-owned companies," U Kyaw Thu, chairman of Myanmar Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Producers and Exporters Association, told The Irrawaddy.
The deregulation in the new law will allow Myanmar citizen businesspeople to gain technology and from foreign investors, according to DICA.
Posted: 14 Dec 2017 08:23 PM PST
KUALA LUMPUR — At least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims, including many children, were killed in the first month of violence that erupted in Myanmar's troubled Rakhine State in August, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Thursday.
The medical charity said the first major survey on the scale of mortality was the "clearest indication yet of the widespread violence" that began on August 25, which has driven more than 600,000 Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh.
Based on interviews at refugee settlements in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar region, MSF estimated at least 6,700 Rohingya – including some 730 children below the age of five – were killed by violence between August 25 and September 24.
The charity, also known as Doctors without Borders, said the figures were "the most conservative" estimates.
"We met and spoke with survivors of violence in Myanmar, who are now sheltering in overcrowded and unsanitary camps in Bangladesh," MSF's medical director Sidney Wong said.
"What we uncovered was staggering, both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member died as a result of violence, and the horrific ways in which they said they were killed or severely injured."
Gunshots were the cause of death in most cases. Others were beaten or burned to death in their houses.
"We heard reports of entire families who perished after they were locked inside their homes, while they were set alight," Wong said in a statement.
Mainly Buddhist Myanmar denies atrocities against Rohingya, and said in September that nearly 400 people died in the fighting, mostly Rohingya insurgents.
A top United Nations human rights official said last week that Myanmar's security forces may be guilty of genocide against the Rohingya.
Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to cooperate on the repatriation of the displaced Rohingya but rights groups have cautioned against any hasty return before peace and stability is restored.
Responding to MSF's findings, the charity Save the Children said it was appalled by the loss of life.
"The international community must work to end the violence, bring perpetrators to justice and insist on immediate, full and unfettered humanitarian access to all people in need in Rakhine State," Bangladesh director Mark Pierce said in a statement.
"Violence against children cannot be tolerated and cannot remain unpunished."
The post At Least 6,700 Rohingya Killed in 'Horrific' Myanmar Violence, Charity Says appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 14 Dec 2017 07:58 PM PST
NAYPYITAW — Planning and Finance Minister U Kyaw Win has admitted that Myanmar's economy has not improved as well as expected, six months after he compared the country's economy to a jet plane about to take off.
"There are suggestions that the country's economy has not picked up as we expected. Considering the current situation, we have to accept that it is true," the minister said in his address to a meeting on small and medium enterprise (SME) development in Naypyitaw on Wednesday.
The address was a sharp contrast to his remarks at the Myanmar Investment Forum in June. "We see that last year the country's economy was like a plane moving on the runaway," he said at the time. "Now this year we will defy gravity with jet power, meaning this is the year economic development will take off."
However, the minister declined to answer questions about exactly what was holding the economy back.
His address on Wednesday followed the recent release of a report stating that business confidence among entrepreneurs in Myanmar dropped drastically this year. The report was based on a survey conducted by the German consultancy Roland Berger and the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Roland Berger published the results of the first Myanmar business survey in December 2016. It found an enormous sense of optimism among both local and international investors — 73 percent of businesspeople expected the country's business landscape to improve. This year, those expectations were shared by only 49 percent of them.
The main reason for the drop in confidence was a lack of clear economic policies and plans from the government; of the roughly 500 local and international business owners in Myanmar surveyed, 77 percent of them flagged it as a significant or very significant concern.
Frustration with the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government's management of the economy has grown over the past year as the administration has largely failed to flesh out its 12-point plan.
The International Monetary Fund has lowered its forecast for the growth of Myanmar's gross domestic product this year from 7 to 6.7 percent.
"The lack of clear policies and guidelines shows that leaders have no capacity. The NLD is also wrong to have continued with policies that were introduced by the previous government, before the power transfer, to increase taxes," said U Than Lwin, an adviser to Kanbawza Bank.
"It doesn't make a difference to do what its predecessor has done. It needs to see if it is right or wrong," he added.
He suggested that the government establish economic think tanks and appoint advisers to ministries and to the chief ministers of the regions and states.
"The government thinks that it will get more tax revenues if it increases the tax rates. It is wrong. While the economy is slow, taxes just increase the burden on the people," he said.
"People don't want to pay high taxes and so they evade them. The government also needs to make sure taxpayers want to pay the tax," he added.
U Aung Hlaing Win, a former member of the Lower House Economic Committee, blamed longstanding monopolies for the country's poorer-than-expected performance.
"It is one of the legacies of the previous government that small businesses are not in a position to compete with much bigger businesses," he said.
Myanmar's economy will not improve unless and until those monopolies are ended, he argued, citing the example of Yangon Bus Service (YBS).
"In the case of YBS, in the past any bus owner could join the service. But then it was monopolized by individual companies. There are many monopolies in the country like this," he said.
The SME development meeting, proposed by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was attended by relevant Union ministers, chief ministers and department heads.
At the meeting, U Kyaw Win criticized the provision of 90 million kyats ($66,000) to a beauty parlor under an SME loan scheme. Yangon Division Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein argued that true SMEs do not get government loans.
Edited from the Burmese by That Ko Ko.
The post Finance Minister Admits Economy is Underperforming appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
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