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