PRESS FREEDOM: Two Reuters reporters’ pardon as a piecemeal solution?

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It is really a good news to hear the release of the two Reuters reporters who have been behind bars for 511 days.

Reuters reporters
Photo : bbc news/ Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo Reuters reporters’

Reportedly, the two journalists Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo were among 6,520 inmates freed on May 7, Tuesday in the third and final round of a mass presidential pardon to mark the Myanmar New Year.

But as the families of the two reporters, media people and as well many who hold freedom of expression dear and those sympathetic to the cause will be rejoicing, another military or Tatmadaw action is on the way to again gag another media outlet, the Development Media Group (DMG) based in Sittwe, the Arakan state.

As it is, during the week end, Tatmadaw filed a criminal case against employees at the DMG for allegedly violating Section 17 (2) of the country’s Unlawful Associations Act, according to its  journalists.

Chief reporter Nay Win San said he was questioned after plainclothes police officials visited the headquarters of main office of the DMG on Sunday night and the chief reporter and another reporter were again questioned on Monday morning. He said that the investigator did not provide clear answers on why they were being charged, according to the recent Radio Free Asia report.

The DMG reporter Thet Naing said the police questioned him Monday about a recent reporting trip to look into a January 26 incident in Thamee Hla Village of Rathetaung Township during which a seven-year-old child was killed by a stray bullet amid fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army.

“I was questioned about my reports. We had gathered information on the ground when we reported about the incident in Thamee Hla Village. They inspected our video footage and questioned whether the information was gathered by myself or if anyone accompanied me, why we published the news and what our intentions were,” said Thet Naing.

While the international pressure might have moved the government to release the two Reuters reporters to redress its depleting popularity for being silent, and at times seen as being indifferent by most of the people, there are still 331 political prisoners as of April, with 48 serving prison sentences, 90 facing trial inside and 193 facing trail outside.

As such, if the National League for Democracy (NLD) government wants to really instill reconciliation and harmony within the society, it needs to refrain from just employing piecemeal tactics and go for an all-embracing, comprehensive strategy, aimed at checks and balances in its democratization process. And this is none other than repealing the outdated draconian laws such as Unlawful Association Act, Official Secrets Act and so on, including the defamation law which should be a civil offense, which can’t be jailed but can be sued in civil court and made one pays money to the person who is unfairly or indiscriminately sued, like in all democratic countries.

The NLD regime has come into power saying that the media is the fourth pillar together with the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. In this sense, it is totally unacceptable that the media is now being harassed and jailed when the stories aren’t to the liking of the NLD and the Tatmadaw. It is true that unethical reporting should be scrutinized and action taken according to the democratic principles but not with draconian outdated laws to serve the purpose of the powers that be, which is the case today. As this will amount to disruption of checks and balances and also bullying.

In short, unless all draconian and outdated laws are repealed and all political prisoner are released, the NLD government and Tatmadaw will continue to use the said laws to control and cow the media for their political edge or supremacy. And this is not the kind of checks and balances that will usher in a new society based on equality before the law and pave way for a proper democratization process.

 

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