NLD pledges to sup­port party mem­ber ac­cused of de­fam­ing Tat­madaw com­man­der-in-chief

The Myanmar Times - - News - LUN MIN MANG lun­min­mang@mm­

SE­NIOR of­fi­cials from the Na­tional League for Democ­racy said the party would stand in sup­port of a mem­ber re­cently hit by a defama­tion charge for a Face­book post deemed in­cen­di­ary to­ward the Tat­madaw. The rul­ing party has pledged to pro­vide le­gal aid if needed, but also to not in­ter­vene if the case heads to trial.

Party of­fi­cial U Myo Yan Naung Thein, who is also founder of the Bayda In­sti­tute, was taken into cus­tody on the af­ter­noon of Novem­ber 3.

A mil­i­tary of­fi­cer from the Yan­gon Re­gional Com­mand filed a com­plaint about U Myo Yan Naung Thein’s Face­book com­ment, al­leg­ing that it in­sulted the Tat­madaw chief for his han­dling of re­cent at­tacks on Rakhine State bor­der guard posts. Hlaing township po­lice ac­cepted the charge against the NLD of­fi­cial un­der sec­tion 66(d) of the no­to­ri­ous Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Law (see re­lated story be­low) for defama­tion.

U Nyan Win, a mem­ber of the NLD’s cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, said the party could help sup­port the due le­gal process.

“If the court de­cides to charge him, then we will give le­gal aid to Ko Myo Yan Naung Thein,” he said, but de­clined to com­ment on whether the case should be con­sid­ered a free speech is­sue.

The court held its first hear­ing on the case on Novem­ber 4 and is de­tain­ing the party mem­ber un­der a re­mand that ex­pires on Novem­ber 9, when an­other court hear­ing is sched­uled.

Un­der cur­rent law, po­lice are per­mit­ted to de­tain a sus­pect with a max­i­mum of two re­mands, each last­ing up to 14 days.

Ac­cord­ing to sec­tion 66(d) of the Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Law, any­one who is found guilty of “ex­tort­ing, co­erc­ing, wrong­fully re­strain­ing, de­fam­ing, dis­turb­ing, caus­ing un­due in­flu­ence or threat­en­ing any per­son by us­ing any telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work” can be pun­ished with a max­i­mum three-year prison term. The law has been used to jail numer­ous po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists and has been re­ferred to by New York-based Hu­man Rights Watch as be­ing part of an “in­fra­struc­ture of re­pres­sion” in Myan­mar.

U Myo Yan Naung Thein’s brother, U Myo Htike Than Thein, said the defama­tion charge un­der­mines free speech and rep­re­sents a threat to the coun­try’s democ­racy.

He ex­pressed fears that the Tat­madaw was at­tempt­ing to make an ex­am­ple of his brother in or­der to cur­tail fu­ture crit­i­cism of mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions.

“In a demo­cratic coun­try, this prac­tice of charg­ing a citizen who is only ex­er­cis­ing their right to free ex­pres­sion should no longer oc­cur,” he said.

In the of­fend­ing Oc­to­ber 14 post on U Myo Yan Naung Thein’s ac­count, he called on Se­nior Gen­eral Min Aung Hlaing to re­sign, call­ing him “shame­less” and sug­gest­ing he was re­spon­si­ble for the es­ca­la­tion of vi­o­lence in north­ern Rakhine State fol­low­ing the re­cent at­tacks.

The NLD-led govern­ment has come un­der mount­ing pres­sure to con­duct an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Rakhine State fol­low­ing re­ports of ex­tra-ju­di­cial killings, homes burned down, and rape al­le­ga­tions. The govern­ment and Tat­madaw have vo­cif­er­ously de­nied the al­le­ga­tions. Jour­nal­ists con­tinue to be de­nied ac­cess to the con­flict ar­eas on se­cu­rity grounds.

Last month, a group of peo­ple con­victed un­der the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions leg­is­la­tion launched a cam­paign to amend the law to in­clude bet­ter def­i­ni­tions of the rules and reg­u­la­tions, and to avoid it be­ing used to sti­fle free speech.

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