The Tatmadaw dropped charges yesterday against six journalists, one activist and one performance group facing trial on offences ranging from defamation to unlawful association, stating it wanted to work with the media in the interests of the country and its people.
The legal action had sparked fears over curbs on free speech during Myanmar’s transition from decades of military rule to a democratic government.
“Recognising that working together with same intentions for the interests of the country and the people, and in order to keep on working together for the national interest of the country and the people, the Tatmadaw decided to forgive and drop charges against the personnel and media,” said the statement.
The Tatmadaw took legal action because coverage by some media had “disgraced the image, the dignity and the activity of the Tatmadaw,” it added.
The reporters were arrested in late June for covering an event organised by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, an ethnic militia engaged in a stand-off with government troops.
Pyae Phone Aung, Thein Zaw and Aye Naing were charged under a colonial-era law against “unlawful association”.
“We journalists were just doing our work, but we were charged and spent more than 60 days in jail”, Pyae Phone Aung, one of the reporters arrested on 26 June in northeastern Shan state, told Reuters by telephone from the court where his trial was being held.
Pyae Phone Aung, Thein Zaw and Aye Naing were released from jail yesterday in Hsipaw, Shan State.
The three other journalists against whom charges were also dropped are U Wai Phyo, Chief Editor of the Daily Eleven Newspaper, U Kyaw Min Swe, Chief Editor of the Voice Daily and U Ko Ko Maung, a satire writer.
They were charged with defamation for their articles critical of the military on the basis of several laws, including a broadly worded telecoms law that critics say restricts free speech.
Charges were also dropped against two other civilians, U Htin Kyaw, also know as Kyaw Htin, and a performance group known as “Kaytu Oh-Wai” led by Wai Yan Thein, who is also known as Victor.
In the statement sent to the Myanmar Press Council, the military also asked the council to help in strengthening mutual understanding and trust between the Tatmadaw and the media, expressing hopes to see unbiased media coverage in the future.