National League for Democracy member U Myo Yan Naung Thein was formally arraigned on a Telecommunications Law defamation charge at the Kamaryut Township Court yesterday, having twice previously been remanded into custody without official prosecutorial proceedings commencing.
Kamaryut Township Court judge Daw Than Dar Shin yesterday denied the defendant’s bail request and his next hearing is scheduled for November 25.
Lawyer U Kyaw Hoe had argued, unsuccessfully, that his client was not a criminal and did not pose a flight risk, and thus should be released on bail.
“We will do as much as we possibly can within the boundaries of the law,” U Kyaw Hoe said of his defence in the upcoming trial.
Senior NLD officials have said the party will stand in support of U Myo Yan Naung Thein, who was hit with a defamation charge under section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law for a Facebook post deemed incendiary toward the Tatmadaw.
The ruling party has pledged to provide legal aid.
Brother of the defendant U Myo Htike Tan Thein said, “There is a question as to why bail could not be granted in the case, which isn’t criminal.”
Attending yesterday’s arraignment was Daw Nyo Nyo Thin, an outspoken former MP who joined growing calls for a review of the Telecommunications Law’s defamation clause, which critics say is overly vague and has been used frequently to quash political dissent.
“The hluttaw should abolished or rectify laws like [the Telecommunications Law’s section] 66[d], which doesn’t fit with democratic practices,” she said.
A growing movement to change the Telecommunications Law was bolstered by voices from abroad this week, with the Burma Democratic Concern (BDC) group holding a protest against the legislation at the Myanmar embassy in London on November 16.
“We are worrying for Myo Yan Naung Thein,” said Ko Htein Lin, a political activist with BDC. “We urge reform of laws suppressing free speech, such as the Telecommunications Law’s 66[d]. BDC is calling for the abolition of 66[d] and demands that the legal suits of those who have been charged under 66[d] be dismissed.”
A member of the parliamentary Commission for the Assessment of Legal Affairs and Special Issues last week said the Telecommunications Law would be reviewed in light of public criticism of the legislation, which has repeatedly been used to imprison people for defaming state leaders.
That followed the launch of a campaign to push for changes to the law led by several prominent activists who were imprisoned under section 66(d).
Speaking yesterday at the courthouse, U Myo Yan Naung Thein questioned the consistency with which section 66(d) cases were being prosecuted.
“There are some groups that aim systematically to manipulate and insult Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD. Why don’t they investigate those kinds of groups?” said U Myo Yan Naung Thein, who is secretary of the NLD’s Central Committee for Research and Strategy Studies and founder of the Bayda Institute, an NLD-linked educational initiative.
He was arrested on November 3 after, in a Facebook post on October 14, calling Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing “shameless” for the military’s handling of the October 9 attacks on border guard posts and subsequent violence in northern Rakhine State. He was transferred to Insein Prison on November 9.
U Myo Yan Naung Thein was the secretary of the Central Committee for Research and Strategy Studies of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
The Telecommunications Law’s section 66(d) prohibits “extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening to any person by using any Telecommunications Network”.
U Myo Yan Naung Thein yesterday said freedom of expression was one of the most important human rights, as enshrined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.