Ex-Speaker asks for public input on telecoms defamation clause
A WEAPON of oppression and threat to freedom of expression? Or curtailer of hate speech and dialogue moderator?
The public is waging a debate about section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, the notorious defamation clause that has been wielded recently in a series of high-profile cases against social media posters.
Former hluttaw Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann joined the conversation yesterday, with a post of his own on Facebook. He did not clearly state his stance on whether the section should be amended or not, but instead raised the issue for public input.
Some have voiced concerns that the law’s provision is “extreme” or “can be manipulated”, the current chair of parliament’s Commission for the Assessment of Legal Affairs and Special Issues said in his post.
“Whether it should be amended or repealed or left unchanged is a matter of the policy [of the administration]. Since policies are the precursors of laws, the role of policymakers and the hluttaw becomes significant,” his post read.
The section of the 2013 Telecommunications Law under scrutiny says anyone “extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening any person by using any telecommunications network” can be punished with a maximum imprisonment of three years, a fine or both.
Human rights activists have frequently criticised the law’s provision as undermining free expression, and in doing so, endangering democratic values.
Thura U Shwe Mann’s parliamentary commission is preparing to review that section of the law, commission member U Aye Mauk told The Myanmar Times last week.
The law has garnered controversy since it started to come into force in the arrest of social media critics toward the end of then-president U Thein Sein’s term, and in a spate of cases around the election. It has continued to be employed, and used to imprison people, under the National League for Democracy-led government. NLD member U Myo Yan Naung Thein was arrested earlier this month and is facing charges under section 66(d) for a post related to criticising the Tatmadaw chief.
Other prominent cases include a lawsuit against Ma Chaw Sandi Htun, an NLD member from Maubin, and Patrick Kum Ja Lee, a Kachin peace activist. They were both, separately, sentenced for online comments about the senior general.
Despite the fact that the legislation lacks by-laws to regulate its enforcement, courts have continued to hear cases and convict people under the Telecommunications Law.
Poet Ko Maung Saung Kha, who served time under section 66(d), has been leading the charge in having the defamation section removed or amended. He and a committee of others prosecuted under the Telecommunications Law have been lobbying parliament.
U Myo Yan Naung Thein is escorted by police on November 9 after he was detained on a Telecommunications Law charge.