Nearly 50 defamation lawsuits against critical journalists, individuals, and organizations have been filed by Myanmar’s powerful military during the civilian-led government’s nearly four years in office, a freedom of expression advocacy group said Tuesday, January 07.
The Yangon-based youth-led group Athan, which means “voice” in Burmese, said that military officers filed 47 legal cases during the 45 months that de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has been in power.
About 65 percent of the cases were filed by military officers, while seven others were filed by middlemen, and a dozen more were filed by the Yangon Regional Military Command, according to Athan.
The lawsuits include 18 cases filed under the Telecommunications Law, 11 under Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, seven under Section 505(b), four under Section 500, two under the Unlawful Associations Act, two under the National Security Act, two under the Media Law, and one under Section 200, the group said.
Among 96 people accused, 51 are activists, 19 are civilians, 14 are journalists, five are religious leaders, four are artists, and three are members of political parties.
“In most of the cases, the accused are activists,” Athan researcher Ye Wai Phyo Aung told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “The military’s lawsuits mostly try to limit the free speech.”
“The prosecution of journalists by the military is not new,” he added. “They have filed many lawsuits since 2006. In 2019, they filed many lawsuits against journalists for covering the Rakhine issue.”
“In our observations, the military has become ultrasensitive to any criticism against it as it is experiencing a political crisis and is responding to critics by filing lawsuits against them,” Ye Wai Phyo Aung said.
Myanmar forces have come under heavy fire by the international community for their campaign of violence against Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state in 2017. The crackdown, which included indiscriminate killings, mass rape, torture and village burnings, left thousands dead and drove more than 740,000 members of the minority group out of the country.
A few nations, including the United States, have imposed targeted sanctions on army commanders deemed responsible for the slaughter, while other countries have filed lawsuits on genocide charges against Myanmar for alleged state-sanctioned violence against the Rohingya.
The military has also filed lawsuits against those who have published news on war-torn Rakhine state, criticized the armed forces, and called for reform of the current constitution which enshrines the military’s political power, Ye Wai Phyo Aung said.
“Especially in 2019, there were occasions like ICJ [International Court of Justice] lawsuit and growing calls to speed up constitutional amendments,” he said.
When Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi appeared before judges during an ICJ hearing in December, she denied that the violence meted out against Rohingya was done with genocidal intent and insisted it was part of a military clearing operation to rid the region of Muslim insurgents.
Myanmar also faces legal action over atrocities against the Rohingya at the International Criminal Court and in an Argentine court. (Source: RFA)