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Myanmar's democratic transition

Myanmar media CEO detained after Rolex wearing minister brings defamation lawsuit

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 November, 2016, 2:25pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 November, 2016, 2:25pm

The head of a major Myanmar media group was detained on Friday after a minister sued him for writing an allegedly defamatory column about the politician and his ties to businessmen.

Than Htut Aung, CEO of the Eleven Media Group, which publishes a number of prominent newspapers and websites, was seen by an AFP photographer wearing handcuffs inside a Yangon police station on Friday.

Police did not respond to requests for information. But on Thursday investigators said they were seeking the media mogul’s arrest after he failed to respond to a defamation summons.

In a column published on Monday, Than Htut Aung accused veteran democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi’s government of failing to tackle the country’s famously entrenched corruption and crony capitalism since winning elections last year.

The piece also referred to “social media stories” accusing a minister of wearing a US$100,000 Patek Philippe watch allegedly given to him by a businessman who served jail time on drugs charges and later won plum contracts. The minister and businessman were not named in the piece but both called press conferences to deny the allegations.

Announcing his plan to sue for defamation under the country’s broadly worded telecommunications law, Yangon chief minister Phyo Min Thein said the watch he wore was a more affordable Rolex and was a gift from his wife.

In a statement the Foreign Correspondents Club of Myanmar described the detention as “an attempt to intimidate the media from doing its job” adding the arrest set “an alarming precedent”.

Myanmar’s media was strictly controlled by the military junta that ruled the country for half a century.

Since reforms earlier this decade a noisy plethora of newspapers and websites have sprung up with varying standards.

While media freedoms have increased under Suu Kyi monitors say many outlets still exercise self-censorship, especially when it comes to the military, Myanmar’s persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority and shady business deals. Activists and critics also find themselves falling foul of the telecommunications law, with those convicted facing up to three years in jail.