Yangon, Jul 22: A Myanmar court has fined two journalists one million kyat (USD 850) each for defaming the president, a newspaper editor said on Wednesday, as concerns mount over press freedoms in the nation ahead of landmark elections.
Both the editor-in-chief and the editor of the Myanmar Herald Journal -- a publication renowned for its criticism of the government -- were found guilty of defamation at Popathiri court in the capital Naypyidaw yesterday, the paper's deputy editor-in-chief told AFP.
Last year the newspaper ran an interview with an opposition National League for Democracy party member who criticised President Thein Sein as "absurd and insane".
Myanmar authorities promptly accused it of having "tarnished the image and rights" of the leader and launched a defamation case against the paper.
The court said "news journals should not publish (content) like this", deputy editor in-chief Aung Htun Linn told AFP. He added that editor-in-chief Kyaw Swa Win, who is also the paper's publisher, and editor Ant Kaung Min were sentenced to either a one million kyat (USD 850) fine each or six months in prison.
They chose to pay the fine after a trial lasting eight months while nine others at the paper were acquitted. There have been growing concerns over media freedoms won in the former junta-ruled country since Myanmar began emerging from outright military rule in 2011.
With crucial elections set for November 8 -- the first to be contested by the opposition in a quarter of a century -- Aung Htun Linn also voiced his worries for journalists.
"We are getting closer to the election and people need to be informed. It's not good if the government tries to sue us every time they feel disappointed," he said. "It could tarnish the image of the government and also shows that the media has no freedom," he added.
In February a freelance photojournalist was arrested for uploading a satirical post on Facebook mocking the country's powerful military.
And last October another freelance journalist was shot dead by the army in a case raised by US President Barack Obama during his official visit to Myanmar. Two soldiers were later acquitted of the murder in a country where the powerful military remains shielded from civilian oversight.