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Myanmar v. The Bi Mon Te Nay Journalists

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    October 16, 2014
  • Outcome
    Imprisonment
  • Case Number
    N/A
  • Region & Country
    Myanmar, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    National Security
  • Tags
    Freedom of press

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

Five members of the Bi Mon Te Nay Journal were arrested on July 8, 2014 – a day after they published an article which mistakenly claimed that the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic opposition leaders had formed an interim government. They were found guilty under the Article 505 (b) of the Penal Code for defamation of the State and were sentenced to two years in jail. The five men were released on July 30, 2015, as part of a mass amnesty granted by President Thein Sien.

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify official legal and government records on the case and information on the case was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.


Facts

Three editorial staff of the Rangoon-based Bi Mon Te Nay Journal – U Win Tin, U Aung Thant, and Ko Min Wathan – along with two publishers – U Kyaw Min Khine and U Yin Min Tun – were arrested on July 8, 2014, after being charged for publishing an article citing an incorrect claim by the Myanmar Democratic Current Force (MDCF), which said that the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ethic opposition leaders had formed an interim government. [1] [2]

The journalists were charged under the Articles 5 (d) and 5 (j) of the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act for causing public alarm and undermining security of the state. They were detained in the infamous Insein Prison after the arrest with their bail application being rejected on August 13, 2014. [3]

The court reasoned that the relevant witnesses had not yet been questioned, and the questioning was a pre-condition for granting bail in a sedition case. [4]

The charges under the two articles of the Emergency Provisions Act were later dropped in favor of a new charge. The journalists were later found guilty by the Rangon’s Pabedan Township Court on October 16, 2014. They were sentenced to two years imprisonment under the Article 505 (b) of the Burmese Penal Code for “defamation of the state.” The legal case led the journal to cease operations. Their equipment was also seized by the police. [5]

Article 505 (b) of the Burmese Penal Code states “Intent to cause, or which is likely  to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility.”

The five members of the journal’s appeals were also rejected on October 27, 2014, by the Rangoon’s West District Court. Their lawyer, U Kyaw Win, said that the court did not give any reason. [6]

They were released on July 30, 2015, in a presidential amnesty order along with other 7,000 prisoners. [7]

[1] Naing, Saw Yan. “Media Group Criticizes Deportation of Burmese Journalists.” The Irrawaddy, July 22, 2014. http://www.irrawaddy.org/burma/media-group-criticizes-deportation-burmese-journalists.html

[2] Mang, Lun Min and Ye Mon. “‘Bi Mon Te Nay’ Staff to Appeal.” The Myanmar Times, October 14, 2014. http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/11979-bi-mon-te-nay-staff-to-appeal-two-year-jail-terms.html

[3] Snaing, Yen. “Bi Mon Te Nay Journalists Denied Bail.” The Irrawaddy, August 15, 2014. http://www.irrawaddy.org/burma/bi-mon-te-nay-journalists-denied-bail.html

[4] Ibid.

[5] Htwe, Ko. “Journalist Sentenced to 2 Years for Sedition.” DVB, October 16, 2014. http://www.dvb.no/news/journalists-sentenced-to-2-years-for-sedition-burma-myanmar/45081

[6] Mang, Lun Min. “Court Rejects First ‘Bi Mon Te Nay’ Appeal.” The Myanmar Times, October 31, 2014. http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/12116-bi-mon-te-nay-appeal-rejected.html

[7] H. Wood, Colin. “5 Journalists among Political Prisoners Released.” DVB, July 31, 2015. https://www.dvb.no/news/5-journalists-among-political-prisoners-released-burma-myanmar/55368


Decision Overview

As the official court document is not available in this case, the reasons for judges’ ruling is not known. However, it can be inferred here that the defendants’ action was not a threat to national security. Even though the defendants were found guilty under the Article 505 (b) of the Penal Code instead of the Article 5 (d) and 5 (j) of the 1950 Emergency Provision Act (which gives 7 years prison sentences for national security related-offenses [1]), the defendants still should not be charged for their actions.

It is good news that the defendants were granted presidential amnesty. However, this case demonstrates that the “freedom” of the press in Myanmar is still not free. There is no law that guarantees the freedom of expression in the country, nor is the freedom practically recognized by the authorities. Many media workers have been arrested, detained, and imprisoned for simply doing their jobs.

[1] “Myanmar Sentences Five Reporters to Two-Year Jail Terms.” Radio Free Asia, October 16, 2014. http://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/sentences-10162014190705.html

Global FoE could not identify official legal and government records on the case and information on the case was derived from secondary sources. Global FoE notes that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding legal matters will be updated as an official source becomes available.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

The Bi Mon Te Nay journalists should not be found guilty because of the article that they published. Even though the information was wrong, its publication should not lead to the arrest and imprisonment of the journalists.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Myan., Article 505 (b) of the Penal Code
  • Myan., Article 5 (d) and (J) of the Emergency Provisions Act

General Law Notes

Myanmar has not followed the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. There is also no national law that guarantees the freedom of expression of its citizens.

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents

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