The IPI global network condemns plans by Myanmar’s military junta to sue two independent media outlets, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and Mizzima, for broadcasting fees incurred prior to the military coup in February 2021. Since the junta took power, independent media has faced an extreme crackdown, including the jailing of journalists and closure of independent outlets.

On July 9, the junta announced its claim that both outlets owe money for using the Myanmar Radio and Television platform prior to the coup. The lawsuit states that DVB owes around 20 million kyats (about 8,500 euros) and Mizzima owes around 80 million kyats (around 34,000 euros). Representatives from both outlets, however, told Radio Free Asia that they believe the lawsuit is invalid because it is being brought by a government that illegally seized power. 

Mizzima, a past recipient of IPI’s Free Media Pioneer award, was closed without notice the day after the coup, a violation of the terms set by the outlet and the government in 2018, according to Mizzima’s founder and CEO, Soe Myint. “The junta arbitrarily unplugged and stopped the Mizzima TV channel on 1 February 2021, itself violating the contract agreement between Mizzima and MRTV (under the ministry of information)”, Myint told IPI. 

DVB’s editor-in-chief, Aye Chan Naing, also told RFA that their television channel had been similarly shut down without notice just after the military coup.

Both of these outlets then had their offices raided and licenses officially canceled in March 2021, a month after the military coup, alongside three other independent media outlets. Mizzima’s bank accounts have also been frozen by the junta. In all, at least 13 independent news outlets have been closed or outlawed by the regime since the coup. 

“As the person who is totally responsible for all what Mizzima did before and after the February 1,2021, I am ready to face the lawsuits and charges which are either against me individually or against Mizzima organizationally in any court which guarantees the judicial independence and under the democratic and fundamental human rights”, Myint said.

Since the coup, Myanmar has witnessed a complete crackdown on independent media. In particular, Section 505(a) of the country’s criminal code, a provision created by the junta which criminalizes reporting that will “cause fear,” spread “false news, [or] agitates directly or indirectly a criminal offense against a Government employee”, has been used repeatedly by the junta to target journalists who publish critical news.

In that time, seven Mizzima persons and journalists have been arrested and tortured on fabricated charges under Section 505(a) since February 2021, according to Myint. He also said that one staffer remains in jail. 

“The military authorities must cease all legal action against Mizzima and DVB and end the continued targeting and harassment of the county’s independent press”, IPI Director of Advocacy Amy Brouillette said. “These retaliatory lawsuits only show the extent to which the junta will go to muzzle Myanmar’s remaining independent media, which continue to report at great risk – and with great courage.”