Authorities in Myanmar on Friday sentenced and jailed a researcher from the ruling National League for Democracy party for criticizing the country’s commander-in-chief of the armed forces on social media.
NLD researcher Myo Yan Naung Thein was sentenced to six months in jail by a court in Kamaryut Township in the north central part of the commercial capital Yangon court for criticizing Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in a Facebook post.
He was accused of defaming the military chief under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, which prohibits use of the telecom network to defame people and carries a jail sentence of up to three years and a fine for those who violate it.
Lieutenant Colonel Lin Tun, who filed a lawsuit against Myo Yan Naung Thein, told RFA’s Myanmar Service he had no comment on the jail sentence and that questions could be directed to officials in the Military Office in Myanmar’s political capital Naypyidaw.
The number of defamation suits filed under the article have soared under the government of de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her civilian-led NLD government. So far, 54 people have been charged under the article, seven of whom have been sentenced to jail.
During the previous military-backed government of former president Thein Sein, only seven people were charged under Article 66(d), and five of them received prison sentences.
“Article 66(d) is needed, but we need to amend it because people have misused it,” he said. “It’s obvious that we have two groups ruling Myanmar, not only our government.”
No intention to insult
Ma Cho, Myo Yan Maung Thein’s wife, pointed out that her husband has been in jail since Nov. 3, 2016, and will have been there six months on May 3.
“It seems the judge concluded that his words on Facebook constituted an insult [to Min Aung Hlaing], but it is obvious that he did not do this in the post he wrote,” she said.
“He wrote it as an opinion piece with no intention of insulting the army chief,” she said.
Maung Saung Kha, a Myanmar poet who was arrested in November 2015 for posting a short poem online that was construed to be offensive to Myanmar’s president and sentenced under Article 66(d), said this section of the telecommunications law should be amended.
“If it isn’t amended, there are many people who will be charged and sentenced under it this month,” he told RFA.
In May 2016, Maung Saung Kha was convicted by a Yangon court on defamation charges for penning the lines, “A tattoo of the president is on my penis; my wife felt detestation when she married me.”
He was sentenced to six months in prison, but was set free because he had already served six months and 19 days in prison.
“We have had more charges and sentences [under Article 66(d)] during the current government’s term, and it has destroyed the government’s reputation,” he said.
“We must amend it, and I want this issue to be discussed in coming parliament meetings in May,” he said.
Reported by Thiha Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.