MYANMAR: Defamation Charges for Journalists Chilling Online Speech
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK–The authorities’ decision to charge three journalists with online defamation is another chilling example of how the 2013 Telecommunications Law is used to curtail online speech in Myanmar, PEN America said in a statement today.
Authorities in central Myanmar’s Magwe region charged editor U Tin Shwe of the MGY Journal, reporter Zar Zar San of Democracy Today, and reporter Phyupwint Nayche of the Myanmar Times under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law. The complaint, filed by Myin Kin village administrator U Htay Lwin, was in response to a May 28 Facebook post by U Tin Shwe about a local road project, which the two other journalists “liked” or commented on. The journalists were charged for “posting of incorrect information” to social media, Radio Free Asia reported.
Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law provides criminal penalties for those who use telecommunications networks to “extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb, inappropriately influence, or intimidate.” Conviction can lead to up to three years imprisonment. Since the National League for Democracy assumed leadership there has been a sharp increase in the number of cases filed under the law, often used to crack down on political expression.
“Threatening media workers with defamation charges and jail time leads to self-censorship and erodes free expression,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “We are disappointed that the authorities continue to accept these complaints at face value and issue charges, and we urge Myanmar’s legislature to urgently review the Telecommunications Law to ensure that it meets international standards.”
As documented in PEN Myanmar’s May 2017 Free Speech Scorecard, since the new government came into power there had been more than 55 defamation cases filed using section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law. That same report found that members of the public have also started bringing complaints under the law as a means to seek revenge against journalists whose coverage they disagree with. Most recently, Kyaw Min Swe, editor of The Voice newspaper, has been held since early June under defamation charges and was denied bail. Various rights groups, including a local free expression coalition led by PEN Myanmar, have called upon Myanmar’s government to amend or repeal the Telecommunications Law to prevent its abuse and ensure that freedom of expression is protected.
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