British NGO ARTICLE 19, which campaigns for freedom of expression, has called on Myanmar prosecutors to drop a criminal case brought against Mizzima Media by Eleven Media Group Chief Reporter Marn Thu Shein who filed a criminal complaint under the Electronic Transactions Law over a column by Sithu Aung Myint published in Mizzima’s online edition.

The article ‘MPC or an organization distorted by some media’ referred to accusations reported by Eleven Media against the Myanmar Peace Centre, which was dissolved in March.

ARTICLE 19 said in a statement: “According to international law, allegations of defamation should be treated as a civil matter between two individuals who have the right to sue one another in a civil court. Treating defamation as a criminal matter in which the State gets involved, as in this case, under the Electronic Transactions Law (ETL), is disproportionate in a democracy.

“We urge the new government to stand behind their commitment to democratisation and drop State support for this case against Mizzima staff, and ask the plaintiff to consider initiating a civil case instead.

“Once in a civil court, according to international standards, the plaintiff must prove that Mizzima staff intentionally published knowingly untrue statements of fact, and provide evidence of measurable harm to Eleven Media Group,” the statement said.

The organisation notes that Mizzima staff are being prosecuted under Article 34(d) of the Electronic Transactions Law (ETL), which states:

“Whoever commits any of the following acts shall, on conviction be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 years or with a fine or both … (d) creating, modifying or altering of information or distributing of information created, modified or altered by electronic technology to be detrimental to the interest of or to lower the dignity of any organization or any person”.

The ETL falls significantly short of international standards as it includes no protection for freedom of expression, and instead has provisions that are both vague and unnecessary in a democracy, the group said.

If convicted, columnist Sithu Aung Myint, Mizzima Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director Soe Myint and the editor-in-charge of Mizzima’s Myanmar edition, Myo Thant, face fines of 5 million to 10 million Kyats (approx. €3,850 to €7,700) and one to three years behind bars if they are unable to pay.