Junta officials are preparing to sue two independent media outlets, accusing them of not paying broadcasting fees imposed just before the military took power in a coup d’etat more than two years ago.
The Yangon offices of the Democratic Voice of Burma, or DVB, and the Mizzima news agencies were raided by junta security forces in March 2021 – a month after the Feb. 1, 2021, military coup d’etat.
The State Administrative Council, the official name of the military government, revoked the operating licenses of the outlets, which now operate online and underground.
The junta’s Ministry of Information announced the lawsuit on Saturday, saying they still must pay for using the state-owned Myanmar Radio and Television platform to air news and entertainment in the months before the military takeover.
According to the lawsuit, DVB owes a month’s fee of more than 20 million kyats, or about US$9,500, while Mizzima must pay 80 million kyats, or about US$38,000, for four months of services.
DVB and Mizzima told RFA on Monday that the lawsuit was illegal because it was brought by a junta that unlawfully seized power.
‘Within minutes of the military coup’
That’s also why DVB doesn’t owe any fees to the junta, said Editor-in-chief Aye Chan Naing. Its broadcasting license contract was signed with a civilian government that was elected by the people, he said.
“We had to pay MRTV every three months,” he told RFA. “We were never late to pay. But within minutes of the military coup, our television channel was cut for exactly one month without any notice from them.”
Mizzima’s founder and chairman, Soe Myint, told RFA that the outlet would pay the bill if it could access its bank account, which had 90 million kyat (about US$42,000) when it was seized by the junta in March 2021.
He said he hasn’t received any emails or official paperwork about the lawsuit.
“If it is in an independent, judicially competent and safe situation, I am ready to defend this lawsuit in court at any time. Whether it is inside Myanmar or anywhere abroad,” he said. “I can present the fact that the military junta unlawfully seized my house and all my properties in any free and fair court of law.”
The junta has also charged seven Mizzima employees with violating Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, Soe Myint said. That part of the law pertains to the circulation of statements, rumors or reports with the intent to cause military officers to disregard or fail in their duties.
RFA attempted to contact junta Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for a response on the lawsuit, but his phone rang unanswered.
Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.