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Myanmar police arrest journalists over satirical story

YANGON, Myanmar — Police in Myanmar have arrested a newspaper's chief editor and a columnist for allegedly defaming the military by publishing an article mocking its role in the country's efforts to reach a peace agreement with fractious minority groups, one of their lawyers said Monday.

The lawyer for The Voice Daily editor Kyaw Min Swe said that the two were not released after being called in for questioning Friday over a lawsuit filed by the military under the country's Telecommunications Law. A broadly defined offense under the law sets a prison term of up to three years for material judged defamatory that is transmitted over any telecommunications network, including online.

Free speech advocates have criticized the law, and several journalists said they plan to wear armbands in protest of the arrests.

The lawyer, Khin Maung Myint, said the trial of the editor and columnist Ko Ko Maung would begin Thursday.

Article 66 (D) of the Telecommunications Law, which targets anyone "extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening to any person," had been used by the repressive former military government to punish its critics, particularly members of the country's pro-democracy movement.

To the surprise of many who expected a new era of freedom of expression, prosecutions have continued under the government of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose political party took power last year. Along with the still-influential military, it has used it to crack down on social media users, activists and journalists.

Under the new government, there have been 67 lawsuits under Article 66 (D), with more than a dozen people actually charged, said the Telecom-Law Research Team, an independent research group. It said five of the lawsuits were filed by members of Suu Kyi's ruling National League for Democracy party. A woman who criticized Suu Kyi on social media was sentenced last month to six months in prison.

Rights groups, activists and lawyers have suggested the government amend or abolish some clauses of the law.