Ac­tivists launch cam­paign to re­form tele­coms law

The Myanmar Times - - News - AUNG KYAW MIN aungkyawmin@mm­times.com

AC­TIVISTS for­merly im­pris­oned un­der the Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Law are de­mand­ing an over­haul of the legislation in or­der to guar­an­tee in­ter­net users’ free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

The Com­mit­tee for Amend­ing the Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Law was launched with 23 mem­bers at the end of Septem­ber. The com­mit­tee includes ac­tivists whose high-profile con­vic­tions un­der the law gar­nered na­tional and in­ter­na­tional back­lash as the legislation was wielded to sup­press crit­i­cism and satire.

“The vic­tims of this Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Law have gath­ered to dis­cuss an amend­ment cam­paign. We are call­ing for the in­put of ex­perts and will col­lect re­ac­tions and per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences from those who have suf­fered un­der this law,” said cam­paign mem­ber and poet Ko Maung Saung Kha. He was con­victed last year and sen­tenced to six months in prison af­ter post­ing a poem on Face­book that in­cluded a ref­er­ence to hav­ing then-pres­i­dent U Thein Sein’s im­age tat­tooed on the nar­ra­tor’s pe­nis.

“We will sub­mit the ma­te­rial to the hlut­taws and call for them to amend the law to in­clude bet­ter def­i­ni­tions of the rules and reg­u­la­tions,” he said.

Like many of the other mem­bers of the com­mit­tee, the poet was charged un­der sec­tion 66(d) of the Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Law, which pro­hibits ac­tions that “ex­tort, threaten, ob­struct, de­fame, dis­turb, in­ap­pro­pri­ately influence or in­tim­i­date” and car­ries a max­i­mum three-year prison term. The cam­paign com­mit­tee hopes to have the sec­tion re­moved, or re­de­fined.

“Un­der this sec­tion [66(d)] the de­fen­dant can be sen­tenced to up to three years in prison with­out bail,” said lawyer U Robert San Aung. “The main weak­ness of the law is the lack of by-laws pro­vid­ing the rules and reg­u­la­tions to guide its en­force­ment.”

Other de­fen­dants who served time un­der the law and are join­ing Ko Maung Saung Kha in the cam­paign in­clude Ma Chaw Sandi Tun, also known as Chit Thami, Ko Zaw Myo Nyunt and Ko Pa­trick Kum Ja Lee.

The Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Law was ap­proved by the Pyi­daungsu Hlut­taw in 2013 in or­der to reg­u­late a sec­tor with in­creas­ing foreign in­vest­ment, and to pro­tect both ser­vice providers and users. But crit­ics have said the law is too broad and too vague, points the cam­paign com­mit­tee hopes to change.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2015 re­port from the Myan­mar Cen­tre for Re­spon­si­ble Busi­ness, there is “a clear risk that the Myan­mar Govern­ment could use the 2013 Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Law to ar­bi­trar­ily char­ac­terise le­git­i­mate ex­pres­sion as ‘threats’ or an ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate influence’, pun­ish­able as a criminal of­fense”. The cen­tre added that the law also al­lows for the govern­ment to se­lec­tively block or fil­ter con­tent if it is deemed “in the in­ter­est of the pub­lic” to do so.

Ko Maung Saung Kha said if the law is truly aimed at pro­tect­ing the pub­lic, it needs to be amended.

“[The law] is more about threat­en­ing on­line users rather than pro­tect­ing them. And so­cial me­dia users are afraid,” he said. “They can be black­mailed like when po­lice ar­rest some­one whose name and face have been used for a fake ac­count and then they can­not even get bail.”

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