Myanmar authorities on Thursday charged a former rights lawyer and political prisoner with defamation for throwing a shoe at a sign outside the courthouse in Pyigyitagon township in central Myanmar’s Mandalay region after a judge issued a decision with which he did not agree.
Zaw Win was at the courthouse to support political activist Zar Zar Tun, who was sued on March 14 and charged with defamation for insulting the court and threatening a judge to show her disagreement with a decision involving a relative.
He became angry when the judge sentenced Zar Zar Tun to four months in jail after authorities detained her without permitting access to a lawyer, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
Khin Khin Cho, a judicial officer at the Mandalay Region Judiciary Office, told The Irrawaddy that Zar Zar Tun was sentenced because she refused to speak in court and did not produce a witness.
Zaw Win was arrested on Wednesday at his home in Pyin Oo Lwin, a hill town about 67 kilometers (42 miles) east of Mandalay, for insulting and defaming the judicial system, a day after plaintiff Kyaw Soe, a deputy administrator in Pyigyitagon township, filed charges against him, a court official said.
“What he said at court endangers the country’s stability,” said Khin Mar Oo, a Pyigyitagon township court judge.
“That’s why he has been charged under section 505 (b),” she said, referring to the section of Myanmar’s penal code that criminalizes the circulation of statements and reports with the intent to cause fear or alarm in the public, whereby someone may be induced commit “an offense against the state” or “disrupt public tranquility.”
The provision, which carries a maximum punishment of two years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both, usually does not allow for bail to be granted.
After the second time that Zaw Win hurled a slipper at the court sign on March 15, a township deputy judge filed charges against him under four sections of Myanmar’s criminal code.
Zaw Win, who is being held in Mandalay’s Obo Prison, went on trial on Thursday. He said he would send the central government an open letter about his arrest. His next hearing is scheduled for March 28.
An increasing number of defamation suits have been filed in Myanmar under vaguely worded laws by government and judicial officials, Buddhist monks, and military officers to silence their critics, especially journalists.
As a result, Myanmar journalists and rights groups have slammed the nearly two-year-old civilian government under de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi for appearing to backpedal on press freedom and other rights after decades of stifling military rule in Myanmar.
Reported by Khaymani Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.