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Criminalization of peaceful expression in Myanmar continues

Even members of the ruling party are falling foul of repressive telecommunications law

November 29, 2016

Authorities in Myanmar continue to arrest and charge individuals, including members of the ruling party, for criticizing the military and government, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Nov. 27.

On Nov.18, National League for Democracy (NLD) member Myo Yan Naung Thein was charged with defamation for a Facebook post criticizing the military for "failing to defend the country" against attacks in Rakhine State and calling for the commander-in-chief of the armed forces to resign, said HRW in a press statement.

He is being held without bail, and faces up to three years in prison under Myanmar's Telecommunications Law.

"No one seems safe from prosecution under Burma's overly broad laws criminalizing free speech," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director using Myanmar's other name.

"It's crucial that the NLD, many of whose members spent long years in prison for their political views, act to end these prosecutions and amend the law," he said.

Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law is a vaguely worded provision that criminalizes "extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening any person by using any telecommunications network."

In recent months, the authorities have used the law to arrest individuals who allegedly insulted or defamed NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Htin Kyaw, or the country's military.

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