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.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - THU THU AUNG thuthuaung@mm­times.com

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.


Photo: Zarni Phyo

U Myo Yan Naung Thein from the Bayda In­sti­tute at­tends a hear­ing in Yan­gon yes­ter­day.

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