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Sunday, 21 December 2014

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The Myanmar Times

Judge denies reports of court media restrictions

Supreme Court Judge U Soe Nyunt last week rejected suggestions from hluttaw representatives that journalists are being unfairly barred from entering courthouses, dismissing the reports as “hearsay”.

U Soe Nyunt said there are no laws or rules that ban journalists from entering courts but they are not allowed to disturb court hearings and must abide by court rules.

If a judge feels that details of a court case should be controlled, they can restrict publication of news about the case but until now there has been “no problems” between judges and the media, U Soe Nyunt told the Pyithu Hluttaw last week.

“According to section 19(b) of the constitution and section 3(b) of the Union Judiciary Law ... anybody can come and study court hearings except cases which are heard in special courts to maintain law and order or which need to be administered behind closed doors, for example to protect juvenile offenders or rape victims. There are no laws, bylaws, procedures, orders and directives to block the media presence in law court,” said U Soe Nyunt.

“But while anyone can watch court hearings they must to abide by court rules not to disturb court hearings … [and] a judge can ban admittance, photo taking and news collecting by anyone if he thinks fit. But no problems have arisen between the courts and the media,” he said.

U Soe Nyunt was responding to a question from Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Yinmarbin U Than Tun, who said there were reports of journalists not being allowed to enter the court or take photos and videos outside the court.

“Prohibiting rights of admittance, assessment and recording by the media may lead to the impression that such restrictions are meant to hide corruption, hurt transparency and facilitate false judgements by means of a news cover-up. In countries where democracy is thriving, law courts have engaged journalists to prove their transparency,” he said.

He asked whether there were any rules in place to “ban admittance into and recording of court hearings by the media and if so are there any plans to amend, supplement or abolish them according to today’s circumstances?”

But while rejecting the premise that journalists had been banned from entering courthouses, U Soe Nyunt said that “many countries do not allow photo taking and videoing in courts” because “in the eyes of law, an accused person is innocent until he or she is convicted by a court”.

“If we allow photos or videos to be taken of defendants and litigants, it will hurt the dignity and human rights of citizens. So the criticism that there are assumptions that corruption and false rulings may happen because a judge does not allow the media is not appropriate because it amounts to accusing law courts [of corruption] and marring their reputation without taking any notice of the fact that law courts are safeguarding the reputation and human rights of litigants, defendants and witnesses.”

However, Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Thingangyun U Thein Nyunt said he had “experienced some incidents … as recently as last month” where journalists had come into conflict with the judicial system over court access.

“There are often problems between courts and the media. In Dagon township and Tarmwe township law courts, there were incidents where the media was refused admittance,” he said. “I can accept their [judges] action for juvenile crimes but what I don’t accept is cases that are shifted and heard in Insein Prison on security grounds. Not only the media but also family members are refused admittance.”

Translated by Thit Lwin

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