Myanmar court frees journalists on bail in incitement case

Kyaw Zaw Linn, the editor-in-charge at Eleven Media, walks out of Tamwe court in Yangon, Myanmar, October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Ann Wang

YANGON (Reuters) – A Myanmar judge on Friday freed on bail three journalists from the country’s largest private newspaper detained on incitement charges after publishing an article that raised questions over government spending.

Eleven Media’s chief reporter, Phyo Wai Win, and two editors, Kyaw Zaw Lin and Nayi Min, were arrested on Oct. 10 following a complaint by the regional government in the commercial capital of Yangon.

Their detention, in Insein prison on the outskirts of the city, marked the latest blow to press freedom in the country, where dozens of journalists have been prosecuted in recent months.

“As a reporter, I wrote my articles based on true information,” said Phyo Wai Win, as he walked free from the crowded courtroom in central Yangon’s Tamwe township on Friday. The next hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 9.

Explaining her decision to grant bail, judge Tin War War Thein told the court the journalists did not pose a flight risk.

“The punishment for the section is not a life sentence but two years maximum, and the accused are working at a journal based in Tamwe township, so they have no reason to run away,” she said.

The trio are facing charges under Section 505 (b) of the country’s colonial-era penal code, which prohibits publishing information that may “cause fear or alarm”, that could cause someone to commit an offense, or disrupt “public tranquility”. The charges carry a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

Days before their arrest, they had published a story that included quotes from lawmakers questioning the city’s use of funds, including the overhaul of transport.

Yangon’s regional government is headed by Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein, a protégé of Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a member of her National League for Democracy party.

Last week, media reported, Myanmar President Win Myint ordered regional authorities to try to settle the dispute through negotiations with Myanmar’s Press Council, which has said the case must be dismissed before talks can start.