After Facebook ‘defamation’ convictions, telco law victims campaign for reform


YANGON — Campaigners and former prisoners have demanded the government amend the notorious Telecommunications Law, under which a number of Myanmar citizens have been prosecuted and jailed for “defamatory” social media posts.

Tuesday’s protest, held outside the Mayangone Township court, coincided with a hearing for Ko Hla Phone, currently being prosecuted under Section 66(d) of the 2013 act for allegedly posting photoshopped images of former President U Thein Sein and military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Hla Phone faces a possible three-year prison term if convicted. As in his case, judges across Yangon have consistently denied bail to detainees on remand for Section 66 charges.

Along with several other activists, poet Maung Saungkha stood outside the court to condemn the law and call on the National League for Democracy government to repeal its criminal provisions.

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“We are worried that the Telecommunications Law is being used as a weapon to attack political groups. Even if you don’t do anything wrong, you can be sued and detained under this section of the law,” he said.

Maung Saungkha was sentenced to a six-month prison term in May after his arrest last year for an infamous poem in which he claimed to have a tattoo of Thein Sein on his penis.

He was released immediately following his conviction for time served, but was held in remand for nearly three weeks longer than the final sentence.

“I had to spend six months and 19 days in prison as I didn’t get released on bail,” he said. “It is total nonsense. My case is a very good example of the law’s problems.”

Regulations for the Telecommunications Law have still not been enacted, nearly three years after its passage through parliament. Campaigners say the lack of clarity from the Ministry of Transport and Communications ahas had a negative impact on judicial procedure, which is leading to custodial sentences for minor offenses.

“For example, the court didn’t hear the opinion of IT experts, even though they have knowledge of the technology,” Maung Saungkha told Frontier. “So if your account is hacked by someone and they post defamatory things, you can be imprisoned for their actions.”

Fellow campaigner Ma Saung Lay Pyay said that her boyfriend Ko Yar Pyae, who has been detained for allegedly defaming Min Aung Hlaing and Buddhist nationalist leader U Wirathu on Facebook, was not responsible for the posts at the centre of his case.

She told reporters that Yar Pyae was unfamiliar with the internet, and when a fake account in his name appeared on Facebook he did not know how to respond. In the meantime, a complaint was filed against him by U Nay Myo Wai, secretary of the nationalist Peace and Diversity Party.

“He just went to police station to explain the fake account and that it wasn’t him, as soon as he heard there was a case open against him. But police just arrested him,” she said.

Tuesday’s campaigners say they have formed a research team composed of legal and IT experts to review the law and plan to submit amendments to the Union Parliament’s Bill Committee.

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