A Nay Pyi Taw-based reporter is the latest to fall victim to the Telecommunications Law’s defamation clause after News Watch journal’s U Maung Maung Tun was charged under article 66(d) this week.
Police officer U Tin Moe Oo from the Pyinmana Township Police confirmed that a case would go to trial, related to a letter to the editor U Maung Maung Tun wrote and subsequent social media posts that criticised a state media reporter.
“The case was opened [under] ... section 66[d] of the Telecommunications Law on August 17 at the Pyinmana Myoma Police Station. After an investigation, the accused, Ko Maung Maung Tun, was arrested at around 9:00pm on November 29. It was a case [concerning alleged defamation] very long ago but it has taken time to construct the case,” he said.
Difficulties contacting both the complainant and defendant had delayed a formal charge, said officer U Tin Moe Oo, explaining that it was U Maung Maung Tun’s social media posts that allowed for the Telecommunications Law to be wielded against him.
The defendant appeared before the Pyinmana Township Court for an initial hearing yesterday and was remanded into custody, with his next court appearance scheduled for December 12.
The defamation suit centres on U Maung Maung Tun’s criticism of Kyemon reporter U Zaw Min Aung over a July 30 article the latter wrote about the Nay Pyi Taw City Development Committee’s 100-day plan for the capital’s Myoma Market.
U Maung Maung Tun took aim at U Zaw Min Aung in a letter to the editor in another local journal, headlined “Who dares to lie not only to the outside world but also on the pages of a state-owned newspaper?”, and in subsequent social media posts declaring, “He lied and lied, who dares lie on the pages of a newspaper?”, and “They bite back because I wrote about Myoma Market and that stick directly hit their wounds”.
It was not immediately clear who brought the complaint against U Maung Maung Tun, nor what specifics of the July 30 article he took issue with.
The story included interviews with Nay Pyi Taw City Development Committee member U Myo Tint and U Min Lwin Soe, head of the Markets Department.
Speaking to The Myanmar Times on condition of anonymity, a Nay Pyi Taw City Development Committee member questioned the legality and procedural propriety of the case.
“Arresting people when they have been complained against should be re-analysed [to determine] whether it is in accordance with the law and police procedures. It is such an aggrievement for the person who has been arrested ... This person loses their citizen’s rights in the matter. It should not be done,” said the committee member, who also claimed the complainant did not have standing to sue for defamation.
U Maung Maung Tun defended his criticism as grounded in the public’s right to now.
“I have written about a cheat, writing for the public to know. I did the right thing by revealing the truth about the person who did wrong. But the one who did right is now accused. The world is absolutely upside-down,” he said.
Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law has been used to stifle criticism by both the previous military-backed government and on the watch of the civilian National League for Democracy administration. Critics say the provision is vague and overly broad, and a campaign is under way to push for scrapping or amending it.
Those found guilty of violating article 66(d) face up to three years in prison.
Translation by Win Thaw Tar and Zaw Nyunt