Myanmar official sues media mogul over bribery insinuation

YANGON, Myanmar – The head of a major Myanmar media group and a top editor were arrested Friday on criminal charges of defaming a senior official, news reports said.

The Frontier Myanmar news website reported that Eleven Media Group CEO Than Htut Aung and chief editor Wai Phyo were sent to Insein Prison after surrendering to police. They were charged under an article in the Telecommunications Law covering online defamation, punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine.

Phyo Min Thein, governor of Yangon, the country’s biggest city, is the first senior official in Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to sue a member of the media, although there have been other cases at lower levels since she took power at the end of March. He had his office sue the Eleven Media Group officials over an article and online posting that he said suggested he accepted a $100,000 watch as a bribe from a property developer in exchange for approving a development project.

The article and posting contained no specific names but the details made the references clear. The developer, Maung Weik, also denied the bribery allegation, Frontier Myanmar reported.

Suu Kyi’s government came to power after five decades of military rule which saw severe repression of the media. It has liberalized the media sector and dropped a harsh censorship law, but still has pressured the media through lawsuits.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Myanmar said it was deeply concerned by the journalists’ arrests. It said the law under which they were charged “poses an impermissibly severe impediment to the exercise of freedom of expression.”

“The FCCM is concerned that arresting and charging of journalists is an attempt to intimidate the media from doing its job and set an alarming precedent for media freedom,” the group said in a statement.

The Eleven Media Group is known for its aggressive reporting. Than Htut Aung won the Golden Pen press freedom award from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers in 2013.