This Photo Collage Earned a Burmese Activist Six Months in Prison
This fall, Myanmar’s military adopted new uniforms, trading in their traditional outfits for bright green shirts and olive green pants.
But when activist Chaw Sandi Tun pointed out in a Facebook post that the officers’ new uniforms matched opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s traditional longyi skirt, Myanmar’s fledgling quasi-civilian government wasn’t too happy about it.
On Monday, the 25-year-old Tun was sentenced to six months in prison for ridiculing the military. She denies the charges and claims her Facebook account was hacked, but the Burmese Maubin Township court justified her sentencing by pointing to the country’s 2013 telecommunications law, which bans citizens from using online platforms to “extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb, inappropriately influence or intimidate.”
Tun’s lawyer, Robert San Aung, criticized the ruling and noted that the case marked the first time someone in Myanmar had been prosecuted for defamation over a Facebook post. “The rule of law in Burma is isolated,” he said. “Others who spread hate speech [online] that assaults race and religion and the community are free while she was jailed.”
The ruling comes less than two months after a major victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, which won in landmark elections in November. Under Myanmar’s military junta, Aung San Suu Kyi spent almost two decades under house arrest.
Tun is not the only Burmese activist to come under government scrutiny for posts on social media. Earlier this month, PEN American Center, which advocates for freedom of expression, released a report documenting how the government’s crackdown on media outlets has created a climate of fear and repression.
In October, Patrick Kum Jaa Lee, an activist, was arrested for sharing a photo on Facebook of someone stepping on a picture of Min Aung Hlaing, the Burmese military’s commander-in-chief.
And in early November, activist and poet Maung Saungkha was arrested for posting the following poem on his Facebook on Oct. 8: “I have the president’s portrait tattooed on my penis/How disgusted my wife is.”