CEO of the Eleven Media Group (EMG) Dr. Than Htut Aung was stopped by an immigration officer named Yan Lin Soe at the Yangon International Airport when he was leaving for a trip.
Dr. Than Htut Aung was told that he cannot leave the country and was forced to return from the airport on November 15.
“This proves that there are unlawful actions in Myanmar. I have never heard of barring from leaving form the country just because I’m currently being sued for a small case under Section 500 (of the Penal Code on defamation grounds). It has never been done in Myanmar nor in the world. I also regularly go to the court hearings. Dr. Thein Myint (Managing Director of the EMG)—also sued in the same case—is allowed to leaving the country. It is unlawful to so such a thing at this time. Both information minister U Ye Htut and home affairs and immigration minister Lieutenant General Ko Ko are responsible for this. We will, one day, confront them legally,” said Dr. Than Htut Aung.
EMG was informed that Dr. Than Htut Aung is not allowed to leave the country as he has currently being sued together with four others, namely Managing Director, Chief Editor, Deputy Chief Editor and an Executive Editor, under Section 500 of the Penal Code on defamation ground. The case was filed by the News and Periodicals Enterprise under the Ministry of Information against The Daily Eleven newspaper and Weekly Eleven News Journal.
“This is dishonest. On October 22, EMG’s Managing Director Dr. Thein Myint went to Thailand. He wasn’t stopped at the airport. We heard we were barred from leaving the country as we are currently sued by the information ministry. Therefore, we went to the airport to confirm it. On October 22, we officially asked President Office senior official U Zaw Htay, information minister U Ye Htut, immigration ministry deputy director at the airport U Maung Maung, and Naypyi Taw permanent secretary for immigration ministry U Than Naing Htun. U Ye Htut and U Zaw Htay didn’t answer. U Maung Maung replied that he did not know. He said the instruction usually comes from Naypyi Taw and that it had not arrived at the time. U Than Naing Htun said he did not know the details, that they did not give such an order, that such limitation cannot be done at will, and responsible authorities had to show evidences to bar someone from leaving the country. No one answered exactly if the ones from EMG currently facing a lawsuit are being barred from leaving the country,” explained Wai Phyo, Chief Editor of The Daily Eleven newspaper.
However, an instruction letter signed by the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Information in the stead of the Union Minister and dated August 30, 2015 was sent to the Ministry of Immigration and Population.
The letter reads: “Five people included in the supplement (a) are currently sued by the News and Periodicals Enterprise under the Ministry of Informationat Pobbathiri Township Court for defaming the ministry by running stories in Weekly Eleven News Journal and The Daily Eleven newspaper saying public funding being misused by the ministry while purchasing printing offsets. Moreover, 17 more people are sued at the Mandalay Region Court for writing stories in Eleven Media Group that contempt the court while writing news stories about the aforementioned case. Therefore, it is requested to bar them from leaving the country if the members of the Eleven Media Group, included in the supplement, request to go abroad.”
“We officially asked them but no one provided a clear answer. Moreover, Dr. Thein Myint went a foreign trip during the time and he was allowed. The letter was sent on August 30 but Dr. Thein Myint went on a trip on October 22. On the letter we can see that a copy of the letter was also sent to the Passport Issuing Authority. But I just renewed my passport in early November. That is why CEO arranged a trip on November 15. Had he known he was barred, he wouldn’t be planning for the trip. Now he is told like that only when he arrived at the airport.This is intentionally done to cause harm. Now there are losses on air tickets and hotel bookings. Such a dishonest act shouldn’t be done. The letter was sent on August 30. On October 22, one of the people included in the list was allowed to go on a foreign trip. Now, your CEO is barred from leaving the country only after the elections. So was it done to tighten the measures after the elections? Was it done by manipulating the laws? Was it dishonesty? Anyhow, information ministry is completely responsible for this,” the Chief Editor added.
“Union Minister for the Ministry of Information U Ye Htut is mainly responsible for this incident. The letter requesting to stop some of our EMG staffers from going abroad was signed by permanent secretary in the stead of the Union Minister. It was done according to his (U Ye Htut’s) direction.Moreover, we are sued by the Ministry of Information only after U Ye Htut became information minister. The offset issue they are talking about is, in fact, an issue discussed by Eleven during a meeting about PSM Law with former information minister U Aung Kyi, parliamentarian Thura U Aye Myint, other responsible persons and media workers. The lawsuit was filed regarding the case after U Ye Htut became minister. We don’t worry about filing lawsuits against us. We only want it done in accord with the laws. We don’t like dishonesties by abusing the laws. Just like suing against us, we also want the right to sue back for disgracing us and to defend the truth. We formally reported about the possible corruption measures while buying offsets to the anti-corruption committee. Nothing is done yet. When we sue the information ministry for writing articles in the state-run papers to defame us, Eleven Media Group, we were not allowed. Such unfair treatment shouldn’t happen. So I think it is because of a personal grudge that our CEO was stopped at the airport. U Ye Htut is the main cause for all our troubles. Five high-rank staffs were sued under Section 500 of the Penal Code. 17 editorial board members were later sued for contempt of court. They are barred from leaving the country. At the same time, license for our English edition newspaper is not permitted yet. U Ye Htut is somehow involved in all these cases either directly or indirectly. For our losses, we will response legally. Even if we cannot currently file a legal case, we will wait until we can. The judiciary and judges need to follow the laws and make the right decision. If they turn a blind eye to the existing laws or make decisions that contradict the laws, they will also face legal judgment. Since U Ye Htut is not only Union Minister for the Ministry of Information but also presidential spokesperson, I want to question if this is the will of the president,” continued Wai Phyo, Chief Editor of The Daily Eleven newspaper.
Moreover, an advocate and legal advisor pointed that the incident is unlawful.
“Normally, it requires a warrant from the court along with the ministry’s letter. There is no warrant in this case. Only the letter from the ministry is present. Therefore, it is unlawful to stop the person from leaving the country. The lawsuit is also about a small case. Moreover, the case is only at the initial hearing phase. Even the charges are not filed yet. So, stopping like this is unlawful,” said the lawyer, who wishes not to be named.
Another Advocate U Kyi Myint from Myanmar Lawyers Network wrote in his letter to EMG that “Dr. Than Htut Aung, CEO of the Eleven Media Group, is allowed to be excluded from the ongoing case at the Pobbathiri Township Court in Naypyi Taw by the order of Mandalay Region Court. Moreover, he is not included in the list of defendants presented in the case of contempt of court at the Mandalay Region Court. Therefore, I believe it is contradicting the laws to bar him from leaving the country at the Yangon International Airport.”
EMG’s Managing Director Dr. Thein Myint said, “It is an act to cut communication between our media company and international media organizations. Currently, our chief editor, Wai Phyo, has already planned to attend Media Professionals Program arranged by WAN-IFRA and expected to be attended by members from different countries. Similarly, our Editor-in-Charge Kyaw Zaw Linn has also been invited to attend One Young World Summit which will be attended by former presidents, prime ministers and more than 1,300 people who are invited. Our online editor Nay Htun Naing will also be going to Malaysia to cover 27th ASEAN Summit where leaders of the ASEAN and other countries meet. At a time like this, barring our staffs from leaving the country for an ongoing legal case is a desperate attempt to limit our relations with international organizations. This is limiting our freedom to get information.”
In 2014, Director of News and Periodicals Enterprise under the Ministry of Information filed a lawsuit against the publisher, chief editor, deputy chief editor, and executive editor, altogether 5 people, from the Weekly Eleven News Journal and The Daily Eleven newspaper under Section 500 of the Penal Code. The first court hearing started on October 10, 2014 and the lawsuit is still ongoing.
Likewise, 17 editorial members from The Daily Eleven newspaper were sued at the Mandaaly Region Court after publishing a news story about the previous case in the paper.
Moreover, EMG’s CEO Dr. Than Htut Aung was attacked on July 14, 2015 evening by a group of more than 5 people. However, the main perpetrators of the attacks are still at large and only two are facing trials. Among the perpetrators Than Htike Aung from the Military Security Affairs is proved to be the one of the main participants. However, he remains to be arrested. The military stated that Than Htike Aung will be investigated in a martial court as he is military personnel, yet no official statement on his arrest or progress has been announced.
“The people should not relax their muscles yet since this kind of action implies that a truly elected government cannot be formed easily. This unlawful act proves thatnational reconciliation and smooth transfer of power will not over easily. At this moment, I do not trust President U Thein Sein and the current government,” said Dr. Than Htut Aung.