Myanmar's government has charged a weekly newspaper with defamation over its publication of an interview with a leader of the opposition National League for Democracy.
The Myanmar Herald published an interview in October with Myo Yan Naung Thein, a political scientist and member of the NLD, in which he described the President Thein Sein's words as "gibberish, irrational, cheap and inconsistent...completely nonsensical, absurd and insane," Radio Free Asia reported, citing the Southeast Asian nation's information ministry.
Authorities sent a charging letter to the newspaper Nov. 5, stating that 11 staff members wil be charged under the country's new media law. They are due to appear in court Nov. 14, the Myanmar Times said. Those facing fines of up to 1,000,000 kyat ($985) include not only editorial staff but those who distribute the paper as well.
Prior to the charging letter, state-owned media published an announcement asking the Herald for an explanation for the interview, suggesting it should publicly apologize for "accusations that jeopardized the image of the president," the news site Democratic Voice of Burma said.
A draft letter from the newspaper offering a partial apology was rejected by the government, Radio Free Asia said.
Passed in March by the country's quasi-civilian government, Myanmar's media law prohibited censorship and granted rights to media workers. However safeguards for the media do not meet international standards because the country's regulator, the Media Council, is not independent of the government, according to the human rights group Article 19.
President Obama will visit Myanmar Nov. 12-14 amid rising concern about the reemergence of sectarian violence and violations of media freedoms.
The country’s from military dictatorship is often hailed as an example of positive American influence in the region, but press freedom organizations and journalists have accused the country of “backsliding” on press freedoms two years after Western countries including the United States began easing economic sanctions. Burmese president Thein Sein’s government has since used his position to “threaten and suppress journalists,” according to CPJ.
Myanmar blogger Nay Phone Latt, recently released from a 20-year sentence for coverage of anti-junta protests and one of 1,300 political prisoners freed in the past three years, asked Obama to call for the release of other journalists facing jail terms and question the “untouchable” nature of Myanmar’s military.