Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy party may take legal action against individuals or the group responsible for posting online rumors that the country’s figurehead president is resigning, the party’s spokesman said Thursday, in the latest indication of a clampdown on free speech in the Southeast Asian nation.
Recent posts on Facebook indicated that President Htin Kyaw would step down due to poor health and be replaced by Shwe Mann, the former speaker of the lower house of parliament who is close to State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi—the country’s de facto leader.
NLD spokesman Win Htein said action will be taken against those who are “spreading rumors” that the country’s President Htin Kyaw is being replaced.
“As far as I’m concerned, this was done by people who are trying to politically destabilize the country while Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi is away,” he said, referring to the state counselor’s current official visit to Europe, where she was in Italy on Thursday.
“I called Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Kyaw Swe yesterday to tell him to find the person responsible for the original post and take legal action against him,” Win Htein said. “We will find out whether it is an individual or an organized group, and I might file a lawsuit against them, or I will ask someone else to do that.”
The NLD’s central executive committee will discuss whether or not to file a lawsuit against those responsible for the post at the body’s next meeting, he said.
In the meantime, the State Counselor’s Office urged the public to disregard the rumor.
Htin Kyaw is serving as a proxy for Aung San Suu Kyi, who is constitutionally barred from the presidency because her sons are foreign-born as was her late husband.
‘Leaking state secrets’
In a related development, Myanmar’s Ministry of Industry said on Thursday it will sue a U.S.-based Facebook blogger for posting what it called a rumor.
Aung N Htwe wrote that former Major Ko Ko Aung asked Khin Maung Cho, the current industry minister, to transfer about 20 officials in positions above that of Ko Ko Aung, and that the minister agreed.
Aung N Htwe included photos of the minister and his wife along with his Facebook post.
In response, the ministry issued a statement that it will investigate those involved and take action against them for “leaking state secrets.”
“We transferred 22 staff due to job needs,” said Ko Ko Lwin, the ministry’s permanent secretary. “There is no other reason for it. People can accuse us of what they want to online, [but] we need to check these rumors and respond as needed according to law.”
Revision of Article 66 (d)
Also on Thursday, Nu Nu Yin, permanent secretary of the country’s Attorney General’s Office, said during a press conference reviewing the NLD government’s accomplishments during its first year in office that controversial Article 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Law will be revised.
The article prohibits use of the telecom network to “extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb, inappropriately influence or intimidate” people and carries a jail sentence of up to three years and a fine for those who violate it.
“We were advised that we should consider bailing out people charged under Article 66 (d),” Nu Nu Yin said, responding to a question about a request her agency received from the Ministry of Communication to amend the article.
Some rights groups have criticized Aung San Suu Kyi, widely touted as a democracy icon in the West, for failing to live up to expectations for increased freedom of the press under the NLD administration.
The number of defamation suits filed under Article 66 (d) have soared under Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration, with 56 people charged for social media posts deemed inappropriate—12 of whom were journalists.
During the previous military-backed government of former president Thein Sein, only seven people were charged under Article 66(d), five of whom received prison sentences.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt, Thet Su Aung and Win Naung Toe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.