Myan­mar gov­ern­ment fail­ing to pro­tect crit­ics from ar­rest, jail – HRW

Mizzima Business Weekly - - NEWS ROUNDUPS -

Myan­mar’s gov­ern­ment should act to end the pros­e­cu­tion of peace­ful crit­ics in vi­o­la­tion of their right to free speech, Hu­man Rights Watch said to­day. The Na­tional League for Democ­racy (NLD)-led gov­ern­ment should seek to amend or re­peal laws that crim­i­nal­ize non­vi­o­lent speech.

Myan­mar’s donors should press the gov­ern­ment to end pros­e­cu­tions for peace­ful ex­pres­sion and to re­lease all those de­tained in vi­o­la­tion of their ba­sic rights, Hu­man Rights Watch said.

“Though Burma’s new gov­ern­ment in­cludes more than 100 former po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, it has done lit­tle to elim­i­nate the laws used to pros­e­cute peace­ful ex­pres­sion,” said Brad Adams, Asia di­rec­tor at Hu­man Rights Watch. “In­stead, dur­ing the gov­ern­ment’s first year there was an es­ca­la­tion in pros­e­cu­tions of peace­ful po­lit­i­cal speech.”

Wai Phyo, the ed­i­tor-in-chief of Eleven Me­dia, and Than Htut Aung, its chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, are fac­ing a crim­i­nal defama­tion trial on Jan­uary 27, 2017, for a re­port al­leg­ing cor­rup­tion by Ran­goon’s chief min­is­ter, an NLD of­fi­cial, even though they is­sued a re­trac­tion of the ar­ti­cle and an apol­ogy. The two had been in pre­trial de­ten­tion for nearly three months be­fore be­ing re­leased on bail on Jan­uary 6. Three pre­vi­ous re­quests for bail were de­nied.

Myo Yan NaungThein, an NLD of­fi­cial, is fac­ing up to three years in prison on defama­tion charges brought by an army colonel for a Face­book post that crit­i­cized the mil­i­tary’s han­dling of the Oc­to­ber 9 at­tacks on bor­der guard posts and sub­se­quent vi­o­lence in north­ern Rakhine State. Myo Yan Naung Thein, who has been jailed since his ar­rest on Novem­ber 3, an­nounced on Jan­uary 18 that he was giv­ing up seek­ing bail af­ter it was de­nied for the third time.

Other re­cent defama­tion pros­e­cu­tions in­clude a case filed by a mem­ber of the Arakan Na­tional Party for al­leged in­sults to the party chair, cases filed by two NLD mem­bers of par­lia­ment against a woman who crit­i­cized them for in­ter­fer­ing in a dis­pute with her house­maid, and a case filed by a former MP in the army-backed Union Sol­i­dar­ity and Devel­op­ment Party against an in­di­vid­ual who ad­vised him to “do good deeds.” A woman who al­legedly in­sulted State Coun­sel­lor Aung San Suu Kyi and an NLD mem­ber who al­leged that a lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tor was steal­ing flood re­lief are among the many oth­ers fac­ing pros­e­cu­tion.

Over the past year, Myan­mar au­thor­i­ties have been par­tic­u­larly ag­gres­sive in the use of sec­tion 66(d) of the 2013 Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Act. The law crim­i­nal­izes defama­tion on the in­ter­net with a penalty of up to three years in prison. Those fac­ing charges un­der the law are not en­ti­tled to bail, and many are de­tained for months pend­ing trial.

Ac­cord­ing to a civil so­ci­ety group headed by Maung Saung kha – who served six months in prison for al­legedly de­fam­ing former Pres­i­dent Thein Sein in a poem – at least 40 cases have been filed un­der sec­tion 66(d) dur­ing the first eight months the new gov­ern­ment has been in of­fice, com­pared with seven dur­ing the more than two-year pe­riod be­tween the law’s en­act­ment and when the new gov­ern­ment took over at the be­gin­ning of April 2016.

Those con­victed un­der the law in re­cent months have re­ceived rel­a­tively long prison sen­tences. One man was sen­tenced to nine months in prison in a case filed by an NLD of­fi­cial for call­ing Pres­i­dent Htin Kyaw an “idiot” and “crazy.” An­other man was sen­tenced to two years in prison in a case filed by an army colonel for post­ing dig­i­tally al­tered images of the com­man­der-in-chief on so­cial me­dia.

“Demo­cratic gov­ern­ments don’t im­prison those who crit­i­cize or some­how ‘in­sult’ gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials or the mil­i­tary,” Adams said. “The Burmese peo­ple ex­pected the NLD gov­ern­ment to bring an end to this kind of re­pres­sion, not add to the ranks of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers.”

Myan­mar’s colo­nial-era pe­nal code also con­tin­ues to be used to pros­e­cute peace­ful ex­pres­sion, Hu­man Rights Watch said. Au­thor­i­ties have charged ac­tivist Khine Myo Htun with “in­cite­ment” and mak­ing state­ments that could “alarm” the pub­lic for al­legedly ac­cus­ing the mil­i­tary of com­mit­ting war crimes in Rakhine State. Khine Myo Htun, who has been de­nied bail since his ar­rest in July, faces up to two years in prison on each charge. Vet­eran ac­tivist Ht­inKyaw has been charged with mak­ing a state­ment “that may im­pede a mem­ber of the Tat­madaw [army] in the ex­e­cu­tion of their duty,” for state­ments crit­i­ciz­ing the mil­i­tary.

The use of crim­i­nal defama­tion laws runs counter to in­creas­ing in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion that im­pos­ing crim­i­nal penal­ties for defama­tion is not a jus­ti­fi­able re­stric­tion on free­dom of speech. All crim­i­nal defama­tion laws should be abol­ished and, where nec­es­sary, re­placed with civil defama­tion laws, Hu­man Rights Watch said.

“The NLD should be us­ing its ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment to amend or re­peal abu­sive laws, not fil­ing crim­i­nal charges against peo­ple ex­press­ing their opin­ions,” Adams said. “Un­til that’s done, Pres­i­dent Htin Kyaw should dis­cour­age fu­ture pros­e­cu­tions by an­nounc­ing that he will use his par­don power in all cases in­volv­ing peace­ful ex­pres­sion, and avoid head­ing down the path of pre­vi­ous mil­i­tary gov­ern­ments which the NLD rightly crit­i­cized.”

Myo Yan Naung Thein in cus­tody. Photo: Mizzima

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