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Editor charged for publishing murdered woman's photograph, released on bail

(Mizzima/IFEX) - July 3, 2012 - The editor of a Burmese newspaper that published a photograph of a murdered woman that had already appeared widely on the Internet was granted bail last week, in a case that journalists say goes against the government's pledge to modernize its repressive media laws.

Myat Khaing, the editor-in-chief of Snap Shot journal, was charged on June 19 with violating sections 505(b) and 505(c) of the Penal Code, which both relate to "statements conducing to public mischief," following a complaint from the Yangon Region government.

The charges stem from the June 14 issue of Snap Shot, in which the paper printed a photo of Ma Thidar Htwe, a Rakhine woman who was raped and murdered on May 28. The picture was published alongside a photo of the three men accused of the crime.

Myat Khaing told The Myanmar Times the charges are "alarming" for journalists in Burma, coming as the government is proposing a sweeping new media law that earlier reports said would eliminate pre-publication censorship of articles and bring Burmese media laws closer to international standards. He said filing charges against the publication under the law was "too much" and demonstrated that the rapidly changing media environment in Burma is new to both journalists and government officials. The Burmese Parliament will take up a new media law in the next session, which reconvenes on Wednesday.

Under section 505(b) of the law, "whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumor or report with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the state or against the public tranquility" faces up to two years in prison, a fine or both. Section 505(c), which relates to publishing "with intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community," carries the same punishment.

Thein Than Oo, a lawyer for Snap Shot, said it was the first time since at least 1988 that an editor of a journal had faced section 505 charges.

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