Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Activists take aim at Telecoms Law

A civilian committee aiming to reform the Telecommunications Law intends to submit its findings to the parliamentary Bill Committee in the next three months.

Ko Maung Saung Kha, who gained notoriety as a victim of the Telecommunications Law last year, speaks to reporters. Photo: SuppliedKo Maung Saung Kha, who gained notoriety as a victim of the Telecommunications Law last year, speaks to reporters. Photo: Supplied

A group comprised of IT professionals and legal experts, the Committee for Amending the Telecommunications Law is currently conducting research. Activist Ko Maung Saung Kha, who gained notoriety – and a stint in prison – for penning a bawdy lyric about having the president’s face tattooed on his penis, sits on the committee.

Speaking with The Myanmar Times on November 5, Ko Maung Saung Kha said the research phase was a matter of some urgency – as are its public awareness-building activities.

“We’ve expected to complete our research in January, but maybe before then, because court cases are continuing at the moment – even Ko Myo Yan Naung Thein from the NLD is being arrested under this law. That’s why we will do it quickly,” he said.

The committee has already hit something of an obstacle in its work, landing it in Zabuthiri Township Court near Nay Pyi Taw. The committee had hoped to hold a minor demonstration to call for the law’s reform on November 4, but was not granted permission by the township police, Ko Maung Saung Kha told reporters from the court compound. He added that he had hoped to explain his group’s activities directly to Nay Pyi Taw Council chair U Myo Aung.

“We have a lot to say about this law. I was living for six months and 19 days in jail under this law, despite the fact that the verdict was only six months. That shows the law is wrong,” Ko Maung Saung Kha said.

He highlighted two major weaknesses in the law in its current form, one being that a person can be detained without a verdict. The second, he says, is that the law has an inherent assumption that judges will have a relatively high level of knowledge about IT.

The law also requires by-laws, he told reporters.

“Courts and police stations are working on filing claims on the basis of section 66[d] alone. So there requires a specific procedure that will give them directives. Therefore, we would like to demand the Ministry of Communications to do it,” he said.

The Telecommunications Law is being used selectively and to political ends, Ko Maung Saung Kha said.

“We have to raise a question why this law doesn’t take effect against those who spread religious hate speech online. There are sexual abuses against women online but this law can’t prevent them. The law only takes actions against those who insulted state leaders ... The law is being used with impunity,” he said.

“Old habits still remain,” he added. “There were directives that no protest shall take place in Nay Pyi Taw. Now Nay Pyi Taw Council’s chair has changed so such directives will also have to change. Everyone shall have right to freedom of expression in Nay Pyi Taw. It is called democracy. Otherwise we have to raise the question, ‘What is democracy?’”

Translation by Zar Zar Soe