A Myanmar court on Friday denied bail for a renowned filmmaker and human rights activist sued by a government military officer for allegedly insulting and defaming the armed forces in a Facebook post, sending him to Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison until his next court appearance in late April, his attorney said.
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who is the founder of Myanmar’s Human Rights, Human Dignity International Film Festival, has been charged under Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code and Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act for writing Facebook posts critical of the armed forces, specifically the political clout they are guaranteed by the country’s 2008 constitution written by a military junta.
Defense lawyer Robert San Aung told RFA’s Myanmar Service that his client was refused bail during his first hearing at Insein Township Court.
“The charge [under Section 505(a)] is not entitled to bail according to the Penal Code,” said the prominent legal activist and human rights attorney. “That’s why he was denied bail. He was taken to Insein Prison right away.”
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi should be granted bail because of poor health, he said, adding that he would discuss with his client whether an appeal should be submitted on medical grounds.
The filmmaker suffers from liver cancer, and had part of his liver removed three months ago, the online journal The Irrawaddy said.
Robert San Aung said that even though Section 505(a) is a non-bailable offense, the judge could exercise his freedom to decide whether to grant bail in this specific case.
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi’s next hearing is scheduled for April 25, Robert San Aung said.
'Influence by the plaintiff'
Myint Kyaw, joint secretary of the Myanmar Press Council, said that the plaintiff could influence a decision for Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi to be denied bail despite his health issues, because he is a well-known critic of the government military.
“Most cases under Section 505(a) usually are denied bail, but he has health issues, and denying bail could mean there might be some influence by the plaintiff,” he told RFA. “They might want to handle the case firmly. That could be the reason for denying bail.”
Lieutenant Colonel Lin Tun from the Yangon Region Military Command filed a lawsuit against the filmmaker for defamation via social media under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law in late March, followed by another case he filed days later under non-bailable Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code.
Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law prohibits use of the telecom network to defame people. Section 505(a) criminalizes the circulation of statements and reports with the intent to cause officers or soldiers in the country’s armed forces to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in their duties. Both charges carry a maximum two-year jail sentence.
“We can say that he is one of the critics of the Tatmataw [Myanmar military] and is on the watch list,” Myint Kyaw said. “What I mean is this is not an accidental case, and it looks like he was being watched on account of a mistake.”
‘I view this as a threat’
Myanmar journalist and political activist Thiha Thway said the court’s refusal to grant bail does not bode well for those who work in Myanmar’s creative industries.
“I view this as a threat, a restriction, and some kind of pressure on freedom of expression, not only for Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who is well known on social media for making political comments, but also for media personnel,” he said.
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi told RFA earlier that he had learned a new legal action had been brought by the military against him for defaming the army in his Facebook comments between Feb. 15 and March 22 just after he had given a statement at the police station on April 2 on a previous charge under Section 66(d).
There have been 53 cases filed under Section 66(d) and 31 cases filed under Section 505 in the past year, Myint Kyaw told RFA in early February.
Myanmar journalists and domestic and international rights groups have called on the civilian government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi to repeal vaguely worded laws such as Section 66(d), which have increasingly been used by those in power, including the military, during the current administration to silence their critics.
Reported by Thet Su Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nandar Chann. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.