Judge rejects bail in defamation case
A Hlaing Tharyar township judge yesterday remanded National League for Democracy official U Myo Yan Naung Thein and denied him bail and power of attorney as he faces charges under section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law.
A NATIONAL League for Democracy member charged with defaming the Tatmadaw chief on social media was denied bail yesterday.
U Myo Yan Naung Thein has been remanded and sent to Insein Prison, with the next court hearing set for November 17.
He is facing charges under section 66(d) of the controversial Telecommunications Law, which the government is currently reviewing amid public criticism over the legislation’s role in silencing critics.
The NLD party official was arrested on November 3 following a complaint about an October 14 posting on his Facebook account, which referred to Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing as “shameless” and said the senior general was responsible for the resurgence of violence in northern Rakhine State.
U Myo Yan Naung Thein, who is also the founder of the Bayda Institute and secretary of the NLD’s Central Research Management Team, said yesterday that the Hlaing Tharyar Township Court’s denial of his bail request and refusal to grant him power of attorney privileges were both unreasonable.
“I object to the remand. I have already been detained almost one week without strong evidence or reason,” he said at the court yesterday. “I am not a person who presents a risk of doing harm or endangering the public, so I ask the judge, why wasn’t I given bail as permitted by the law?”
Judge U Thura Thwin said the bail request was denied on grounds of his own “rationale”.
“For this case, I can’t give bail,” he said, without further elaborating.
U Myo Yan Naung Thein told reporters yesterday that he is being unfairly treated as a dangerous criminal.
“They took away my electronic devices, including my mobile phone with my personal and business information. There is no need for that,” he said.
Responding to questions about the offending social media post, U Myo Yan Naung Thein took responsibility for the comment, and added that it was within his rights to express his opinion online. He said his case represents an attempt to stifle free speech.
“There is a difference between defamation and criticism,” he said. “This is about freedom of speech. Especially for political observers like myself, we should be able to say our opinions about the government, hluttaw and military. People have a right to an opinion and to share it, and criticism sometimes needs to be harsh.”
Human rights lawyer U Robert Sann Aung, who has represented several defendants prosecuted under the Telecommunications Law, said the legislation was being used “as a weapon against the people”. He added that lawmakers have a responsibility to fix it.
At the next hearing on November 17, the court will decide whether or not to uphold the charge against U Myo Yan Naung Thein.
U Myo Htike Tan Thein, the NLD member’s brother, said some have suggested that U Myo Yan Naung Thein’s detention was politically motivated in order to bar him from being involved in the upcoming by-election.
“He is experienced in planning and winning campaigns for the NLD. But there are so many possibilities [in what motivated this case],” U Myo Htike Tan Thein said.
Senior officials from the National League for Democracy have said the party supports U Myo Yan Naung Thein and will provide legal aid if needed, but will also not intervene if the case heads to trial.
Earlier this week, a member of the parliamentary Commission for the Assessment of Legal Affairs and Special Issues said the 2013 Telecommunications Law would soon be under review in light of growing public criticism of the legislation, which has repeatedly been used to imprison people for defaming state leaders.
Last month, a group of people convicted under the legislation launched a campaign to amend it, pushing for it to include clearer definitions as well as rules and regulations to ensure it is not used as an instrument to repress free speech.
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 it has surfaced in several high-profile cases in the past two years as a way to hit back against social media jokesters and satirists.
Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law prohibits actions that “extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb, inappropriately influence or intimidate” and carries a maximum three-year prison term. The group campaigning against the law hopes to have the section removed or redefined.
U Myo Yan Naung Thein from the Bayda Institute attends a hearing in Yangon yesterday.