Activists launch campaign to reform telecoms law
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.”