External Affairs

Myanmar Activist Accused of Defamation for Livestreaming Satirical Play on Army

Since the passing of the Telecommunications Law in 2013, the number of defamation cases has risen considerably. Is the country misusing the law to shut down any hint of political dissent?

Students perform a drama deemed to be defamatory by the Burma army. Credit: Salai Thant Zin / The Irrawaddy.

An online defamation provision in Myanmar’s 2013 Telecommunications Law is being used by government officials, especially the Burmese army, to harass critics, reporters and activists in the country.

A local human rights leader in Pathein province was arrested on June 4 after he was charged under Article 66(D) of the Telecommunications Law for live-streaming a play that was critical of military clashes with ethnic armed groups on Facebook.

Police arrested U Tun Tun Oo, leader of the Human Rights Activists Association, for streaming the drama entitled ‘We Want No War’ staged by high school students and undergraduates of Pathein University during a peace discussion in Pathein on January 9.

Personnel of the Burma Army South Western Command filed a lawsuit against him at Pathein Central Police Station under Section 34(D) of the Electronic Transactions Law. But police sought legal advice from township law officials who suggested charging U Tun Tun Oo with Article 66(D) instead.

U Tun Tun Oo was brought to trial at Pathein township court on Monday.

Nine students performed the satirical play, in which a news agency called Oxygen interviewed supporters of Myanmar’s conflict.

“I streamed it live so that my friends could watch it because my son participated in the drama. I did not intend to defame the military,” he told the media.

The Myanmar army also sued nine students involved in the drama for defamation.

The Pathein township court judge acquitted seven of the nine students but charged two – Ko Aung Khant Zaw and Ko Myat Thu Htet, who organised the play. The two are still facing trial.

Since the enactment of the Telecommunications Law in 2013, there have been a total of 67 cases filed under Article 66(D), according to a local research group led by a former prisoner Maung Saung Kha, a poet who was jailed under the same charge in 2016.

On June 2, police detained chief editor of The Voice Daily newspaper Ko Kyaw Min Swe and regular columnist Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing – also known by his pen name British Ko Ko Maung – under Article 66(D) over a satirical article about Myanmar’s peace process.

This article was originally published on Global Voices.