Military drops charges against journalists

The Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw) will no longer pursue controversial defamation charges against international news agency Reuters and the Irrawaddy News.

The Myanmar Press Council announced that the military has abandoned its plan to sue Reuters and an Irrawaddy editor for reports that suggested the Tatmadaw were responsible for a shelling that struck a Rohingya village in Rakhine State and killed two civilian women. The military denied the claims, blaming the Arakan Army separatist group for the shelling, and claimed the articles violated article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, which bans online defamation.

The decision to drop the charges may help diffuse the controversy the lawsuit has caused. The Tatmadaw has in the past used article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law against its detractors, including, most recently, a group of comedians who were sentenced to prison for circulating a video of a performance that mocked military officials. Each time 66(d) is exercised, local and international media and human rights advocates call for its repeal, condemning it as one of Myanmar’s last bastions of censorship and suppression.

The decision to drop the charges may also be an attempt to avoid a repeat of the 2017 case against Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. The pair were arrested and charged under the State Secrets Act for possessing leaked military documents. The incident gained internationally a high profile and eventually led to a Pulitzer Prize for the Reuters news team.

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