NLD member facing telecoms law charge denied bail

By HEIN KO SOE & HTUN KHAING | FRONTIER

A NATIONAL League for Democracy member charged with defaming the military was denied bail at a hearing at Hlaing Township Court on November 9.

Ko Myo Yan Naung Thein, 42, who is also secretary of the NLD’s Central Research Management Team, was arrested on November 3. He is alleged to have defamed Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing in a Facebook post where he criticised the general’s handling of security operations in northern Rakhine State.

Myo Yan Naung Thein is facing a charge under section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law, which carries a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment.

“He has been sent to Insein Prison,” his brother Ko Myo Htike Tan Thein told Frontier. “His application for bail was rejected. And the application to send the lawyer to court on his behalf was also rejected.”

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Myo Yan Naung Thein, founder of the Bayda Institute, is being represented by U Kyaw Moe from the NLD’s Legal Assistance Team. His next hearing is due to take place on November 17.

Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law prohibits actions that “extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb, inappropriately influence or intimidate” any other person.

It was passed in 2013 by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw and primarily aimed at regulating a sector about to open to foreign investment, ending the decades-old monopoly of state-run Myanma Posts and Telecommunications. However, since the law was enacted it has been regularly used to arrest and detain activists, and people making jokes on social media.

One of the most high profile cases was that of Kachin peace activist Patrick Khum Jaa Lee, who was arrested in October 2015 for defaming the military. He was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and released from Insein Prison on April 1.

In mid-October, campaigners held a protest urging the government to amend the law. The campaign features poet Maung Saungkha, who was arrested in November 2015 under the law and released in May. He was charged for writing a poem saying that he had the tattoo of a president – believed to be former president U Thein Sein – on his penis.

“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,” Maung Saungkha said in October.

Last week, a member of the parliament’s Commission for the Assessment of Legal Affairs and Special Issues said that the law would be reviewed due to the growing criticism over how it was being applied.

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