Two Rakhine state-based journalists charged by the military under section 66d of the Telecommunications Law say they were released on bail on Tuesday.
Reporter Hnin Hnin Nwe, 22, and deputy editor Nay Win San, 26, were charged last Friday for an article published online by the Development Media Group (DMG) on January 10.
The charges were laid by Maj Bhone Myint Kyaw at Sittwe’s No.2 police station. Bail was set at 1.5m kyat ($1,128), Nay Win San told Myanmar Now.
The article accuses soldiers of taking 700 baskets of rice from civilians in Marlar, a village in Kyauktaw township. The two journalists say they were interrogated about their sources, while DMG was questioned about its registration.
Police also took Hnin Nwe’s computer and phone, Nay Win San added.
“They confiscated her phone and the computer she used to write the article. We requested that these devices be opened only in court when we go to trial, but the police said we had to hand them over then and there,” he said.
DMG’s editor Moe Zaw Myint has also been taken in for questioning at the police station, according to the publication’s news department.
“We don’t know when they’re taking the case to court, or how it will go, since they’re questioning Moe Zaw Myint today,” Nay Win San said on Wednesday.
Hnin Nwe, who mainly covers armed conflict, is the first female reporter to face charges for her work in Rakhine state, where the military has been fighting the Arakan Army since early 2019.
She denied the military’s claims that her report failed to adhere to accepted journalistic standards.
“We said in the article that we were unable to contact military officials in accordance with media ethics. So it’s not okay that they’re charging us, claiming that we just made accusations,” she told Myanmar Now.
“I feel sad that I’m being charged just because I wanted to report on the sufferings of the people,” she added.
DMG reported the case to the Myanmar Press Council (MPC) on Monday to seek its intervention. The council has reportedly contacted the military on behalf of the journalists.
According to Myanmar’s News Media Law, the MPC must be informed before legal action is taken against a reporter. However, in this case, the initial charge was laid under the penal code.
The military said that Marlar had been abandoned since March 2020 and accused the journalists of fabricating the story to tarnish its image.
“This was done deliberately to hurt our reputation at a time when fighting has stopped for the sake of the public’s wellbeing,” military spokesperson Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun told reporters in Naypyitaw on Wednesday.
“It’s all fabricated and that’s why we’re filing a case,” he added.
Sittwe-based DMG mainly covers the armed conflict and human rights violations in Rakhine and currently faces two other charges.
Editor-in-chief Aung Marm Oo was charged by the police in May 2019 under article 17/2 of the Unlawful Associations Act.
DMG’s Maungdaw-based reporter Aung Kyaw Min was charged under section 66d of the Telecommunications Law by the Ministry of Construction on December 11, 2020.
Editor Nay Win San said that the multiple charges have made it difficult for the news department to function.
“The office can’t operate. A reporter and an editor are hit with charges and the editor in charge is being questioned today. So we have suspended operations for the time being, but we will resume later. It seems as if it will affect our reporting,” he said.
DMG was founded in 2012 and published a print edition twice a month until the end of 2019, when it was unable to get authorization to renew its permit.
It currently publishes online, but access to the website is banned in Myanmar.
DMG’s reporters also face difficulties when trying to contact members of the state cabinet because of the publication’s lack of a license.
“When we reach out to the state government and other departments, we get asked if our outlet is licensed and registered. So sometimes we don’t get interviews,” Nay Win San said.