The CEO and chief editor at Eleven Media were granted bail on their fourth appeal last week, following an apology and retraction of the editorial which sparked the legal feud with the Yangon Region government.
Eleven CEO U Than Htut Aung had previously requested bail on health grounds after he allegedly suffered a heart attack while behind bars. U Than Htut Aung and editor U Wai Phyo have been detained since November over an editorial implying Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein’s involvement in graft.
Despite the retraction, and an apology which ran in both print and online at the end of December, the defamation case under the Telecommunications Law’s notorious section 66(d) has not been withdrawn.
Appearing in court for the first time on January 6, plaintiff U Moe Hein, the secretary of the Yangon Region government, told reporters that the lawsuit will continue as the dignity of Yangon’s chief minister has been damaged.
“We won’t withdraw the lawsuit,” he said. “We found that the article intended to cause a misunderstanding about the chief minister and to damage his dignity.”
The editorial in question accused the chief minister of allotting choice contracts to a business contact who had gifted him a US$100,000 Patek Philips watch. The column did not name either the chief minister, or the business person.
CEO U Than Htut Aung has appeared in the Tarmwe Township Court on a stretcher in an ambulance since his lawyer said he suffered a heart attack in Insein Prison on November 23.
AFP reported that the January 6 bail request was accepted because the prison doctor reported to court.
“The judge approved the bail of K100 million [US$76,600] for each one,” said the defendant’s lawyer U Kyee Myint.
The bail allowance is nearly unprecedented in 66(d) cases, which leaves the decision up to the discretion of the judge. The defamation section of the law, and particularly the bail stipulation, has come under heavy criticism from rights groups and activists who have served time under the clause and are seeking an amendment.
Defendant U Than Htut Aung, well-known for his involvement on both the receiving and lodging end of defamation cases, was escorted out of the court with the assistance of family members on January 6.
“I’m not feeling well. I will go to hospital now,” he told reporters outside the court.
The next trial will be held on January 22, when the defendants’ lawyers are scheduled to question the plaintiff.