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Myanmar court fines 2 newspaper editors for publishing interview that insulted president

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YANGON, Myanmar — A Myanmar court on Tuesday fined two editors of a weekly newspaper 1 million kyat ($809) each after finding them guilty of violating the country's media law by insulting the president.

The case was one of several seen by press freedom advocates as an effort to intimidate the media ahead of a general election scheduled for November.

Nine other staff members of the weekly Myanmar Herald were acquitted in the case, which was filed by the Information Ministry last November after publication of an interview with a political analyst who described President Thein Sein as a fool.

The paper's chief editor, Kyaw Swa Win, and the deputy chief editor, Arnt Khaung Min, were fined by a court in the capital, Naypyitaw, for violating the media law by printing articles affecting an individual's reputation.

"The judge said we are guilty of tarnishing the image of the president and we were charged under the media law for not being ethical," Arnt Khaung Min said by phone.

"We have to be cautious because the harassment on media freedom has increased, but we don't feel threatened by such repression," he said, describing the pre-election climate for the media as very bleak. "We will continue to do our job."

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International said last month that the government's efforts to restrict freedom of expression had intensified over the past year.

Myanmar started moving in 2011 from a half-century of military rule to democracy, but many of its political reforms, including media freedom, have stalled. About 10 journalists are serving jail terms ranging from two to seven years, a journalist was killed in military custody and more than a dozen others are facing trial, including a group of 17 editorial staffers from the influential Daily Eleven newspaper on contempt of court charges.

The Daily Eleven, taking advantage of new press freedoms after the military regime made way for a civilian elected government in 2011, has published a series of stories on alleged corruption, abuse of power and inefficiency in the judicial system. The outspoken CEO of the Eleven Media Group, Dr. Than Htut Aung, was attacked last week by assailants who used slingshots to shoot steel bolts at his car, damaging the vehicle but leaving the publishing executive unhurt. The motive of the attackers remains unclear, though the attack has contributed to a chilling atmosphere for journalists.

The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders last week named Thein Sein as one of the world "leaders who publicly threaten journalists."

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