Myo Yan Naung Thein, a member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party in Myanmar, was arrested on November 3 over Facebook posts deemed to be offensive towards the military’s Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The activist was charged under Section 66(D) of the Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law. Myo Yan Naung Thein is expected to appear before court again on November 17; if convicted, the activist is facing up to 3 year in prison.
The complaint was filed by military’s Yangon Division Command, following Facebook posts from October calling for the Commander-in-Chief to resign. Myo Yan Naung Thein criticised General Min Aung Hlaing for being negligent over handling recent attacks on police stations in Rakhine State.
Myo Yan Naung Thein made the following statement to journalists while appearing at court on November 4:
“Such a law should be revoked if it goes against the country’s Constitution, which should protect the fundamental rights of its citizens. Threatening a citizen’s [freedom of] expression is not in line with democratic standards. Such an action is questionable, especially when the country is moving forward on a democratic path. The law is being used to suppress people’s opinions now”
Myo Yan Naung Thein is the Deputy Leader of NLD’s Central Research Committee and BAYDA Institute‘s Founder and Executive Director. The BAYDA Institute “aims to educate and empower future public leaders of a democratic Burma”. The Institute acts as the academic wing of the National League for Democracy party.
Myo Htike Tan Thein, Programs Director at BAYDA Institute, responded to the arrest:
“When we touch the issue of freedom of expression and information, it is not necessarily opposing or defaming the military… Criminal defamation laws that silence free speech online are also incompatible with the right to freedom of opinion and expression and non-compliant with international laws and standards”
According to Freedom House’s Freedom of the Net report for the year 2016, Myanmar is marked as “Not Free”. The press freedom is also marked as not free. Five bloggers were reported to be arrested for at least 6 months each, over online speech criticising military or government officials. They were all detained under the broad 2013 Telecommunications Law, which prohibits the use of the telecoms network to ‘extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb, inappropriately influence or intimidate any person by using any telecommunications network’.