His Excellency President Htin Kyaw,
President of the Republic of Myanmar.
C/O Mr Zaw Htay,
Spokesperson of the President’s Office & the State Counsellor’s Office,
President’s Office, Naypyitaw, Myanmar
State Counsellor’s Office, Naypyitaw, Myanmar
15th November 2016
We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, to express our grave concern at the arrest and imprisonment of senior media executives from the Eleven Media Group and urge you to intervene to guarantee freedom of expression in Myanmar.
According to reports, Eleven Media Group CEO, Dr Than Htut Aung, and group Editor-in-Chief, Wai Phyo, have been charged under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act following the publication of the Myanmar language version of an article written by Dr Aung. The article, originally published in English across a number of Asia News Network newspapers, assessed the state of Mynamar one year on from historic elections that took place in November 2015.
The piece was subsequently published in Daily Eleven and on its Facebook page and addressed allegations of corruption within the new government that had been circulating on social media. The Yangon Regional Government, under the auspices of Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein, reacted by calling for the sources of the accusations to be revealed and referring the matter to the Myanmar Press Council.
Eleven Media Group has refused to answer the Regional Government’s questions and denounced the pressure as an attack against press freedom, instead calling for full and transparent investigations into the allegations. The media group has pledged full cooperation with any public inquiry that may be formed to examine the allegations.
However, reports suggest that Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein reacted by suing the executives under section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act. Dr Aung and Mr Phyo have been remanded in custody and reportedly sent to Insein prison, awaiting a court hearing on 25th November.
Your Excellency, we are appalled that journalists in today’s Myanmar are being sent to jail for exercising their right to freedom of expression. In actions that have more in common with Myanmar’s dark past, rather than its bright future, we must echo international concerns that the detention of the two men raises serious doubts about the National League for Democracy-led government’s commitment to freedom of expression.
We call on Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein to drop the charges against Dr Than Htut Aung and Wai Phyo and for the two men to be immediately released from prison. The Chief Minister must accept that his position of public authority opens him up to a higher level of scrutiny and accountability, and that it is the role of media in a democracy to do precisely this.
Furthermore, we urge the Yangon Regional Government to reaffirm its commitment to the reform agenda, and to resist any reactionary moves that would set back this agenda or undermine the results achieved so far. Myanmar has embraced change and as a result a society based on the respect of human rights is rapidly being rebuilt. We urge the NLD and those with the power to influence the direction this young democracy takes to use their influence wisely and to do everything in their capacity to protect the freedom of the press as a critical measure of progress in the country.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Editors Forum
WAN-IFRA is the global organisation for the world’s newspapers and news publishers, with formal representative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. The organisation groups 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries.