Hotelier Suing The Irrawaddy Reporter Tries to Drag More of Outlet’s Journalists Into Court

A hotelier suing a journalist from The Irrawaddy over his coverage of a Rakhine State resort development deal gone sour told a Yangon court on Wednesday she now also wants to sue the outlet’s editors.

Kalayar Moe filed a defamation case against Moe Myint under Article 66d of the Telecommunications Law in 2018 for his coverage of legal actions taken by her partners in the Amara Ocean Resort GBR, a German-registered company—including that the project was the subject of a money-laundering investigation by Myanmar’s Central Body on Anti-Money Laundering.

The journalist, who has since joined Radio Free Asia, faces up to two years in jail.

Kalayar Moe has now asked the judge to call members of the editorial teams from both the English and Burmese editions as defendants in the case, though she did not name anyone specifically.

“We see the request as a threat to the media’s right to freedom of expression,” said Ye Ni, editor of the outlet’s Burmese edition. “We will legally defend our rights granted by the constitution and the media law.”

Defence lawyer Than Zaw Aung, who represented previously jailed Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, said he was confident the journalist would win his case.

“We have a good chance,” Than Zaw Aung told Myanmar Now. “Everything in Moe Myint’s reports was factual.”

Wednesday’s hearing was the fourth in a trial set to last for at least 270 days, with the plaintiff presenting her evidence over the first 120 days.

Kalayar Moe and her then-husband, German citizen Gerald Schreiber, signed an agreement in 2009 with another German investor, Eva Felten, to develop Amara Ocean Resort at the popular Ngapali Beach, according to German court records.

But the deal fell apart. Felton sold her 50 percent share to Jens Ehrhardt for $2.8 million in 2011 and the following year Kalayar Moe and Schreiber divorced in a German court.

Though the business is registered in Germany, the resort remained under Kalayar Moe’s name, as majority-foreign property ownership in Myanmar is illegal.

A protracted legal battle ensued in German courts over the company’s assets and the roles of each partner.

None of the disputes were decided favourably for Kayalar Moe.

As the court’s decisions are not recognized in Myanmar, Ehrhardt filed a complaint against Kalayar Moe in Yangon in April 2018, when Moe Myint first wrote about the dispute.

Kalayar Moe claims the reporting has damaged her business reputation, said Than Zaw Aung.

She and her lawyer declined to comment on the case outside Kyauktada Township Court.

Moe Myint is prevented from commenting publicly on the case until permitted by RFA headquarters in Washington, USA.

Rights groups have repeatedly called on the government to revoke article 66d, which is frequently against media, activists and artists who fall foul of powerful interests.

Two hundred cases had been filed under the law between November 2015 and July 2019, according to #SayNoto66d, a group that tracks cases and advocates for the law’s repeal.

Myanmar is ranked 138 out of 180 countries for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders.

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