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The Eleven Media Group has said it is investigating for evidence of a mistrial at Karenni state’s Loikaw Township Court which last week sentenced one of its local reporters to three months in jail for trespassing, criminal defamation and using obscene language.
Eleven Daily reporter Naw Khine Khine Aye Cho (also known as Ma Khine) was sued by lawyer Aye Aye Pho in late October after the latter accused the journalist of forcibly entering her home to interview her about a court case. Aye Aye Pho claims Ma Khine verbally abused and defamed her when asked her to leave the property.
However, in her court testimony, the reporter claimed she was invited into Aye Aye Pho’s home and had identified herself as a journalist. She said the lawyer became angry when questioned about the legal fees she charged clients and asked her to leave.
On 17 December, the court sentenced Naw Khine Khine Aye Cho to serve a concurrent three-month term in prison for trespassing including one month each for defamation and using obscene language.
The Eleven Daily’s Chief Editor Wai Phyo said the media group is preparing an independent investigation to find out whether the trial was conducted fairly and, if not, will subsequently file a counter-lawsuit.
He also criticised Burma’s criminal defamation law which is enshrined in the colonial era penal code and carries sentences of up to two years for journalists.
“The [defamation law] is a common threat for any journalist at any time. Jailing a journalist under this law is a hindrance to media freedom, and both the charges and the sentences [against the reporter] were unfair,” said Wai Phyo.
“We are looking to launch an investigation to find out if there was interference by authorities in the trial and will press for a lawsuit against those who are found responsible.”
On 19 December, the Eleven Daily published an eight-point statement denouncing Loikaw Township Court’s judge for jailing the reporter.
Aung Thein, a member of the Myanmar Lawyers Network, said that authorities who prosecute journalists for doing their job can be seen as a challenge to media freedom, but journalists are also liable for criminal lawsuits if they step out of line.
Chief reporter Shwe Hmone of the Union Weekly News Journal backed Eleven Daily editor Wai Phyo’s statement, insisting that jailing journalists under various “convenient” laws was an attempt to obstruct media freedom.
“Jailing journalists with ease under such circumstances is an obstruction to media freedom and is something that has been done repeatedly,” said Shwe Hmone. “We understand that media networks and bodies are planning an action regarding this case and we will be monitoring its development.
Shawn Crispin, the senior Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said, “We call for the verdict against journalist Ma Khine to be scrapped on appeal. The jailing of a journalist on questionable charges shows just how far Burma still needs to go in reforming and scrapping laws that are often used to suppress the media.”
Eleven Media Group is the publisher of Eleven Daily newspaper and Eleven Weekly news journal.