NEW YORK–The Friday detention of a newspaper editor and commentator in Myanmar illustrates how Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law is being used as a cudgel against free expression and underscores the need to reform or repeal this provision, PEN America said today.

On Friday, June 2, editor Kyaw Min Swe and columnist British Ko Ko Maung (a pen name) of The Voice Daily newspaper were detained under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law. Military officials had filed a claim under Article 66 earlier in May, alleging that a March satirical article written by Ko Ko Maung had defamed the military.

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.” A conviction under the Law can lead to up to three years imprisonment. The number of cases brought under Article 66(d) has risen sharply under the current government, with 67 registered cases. Human rights advocates and legal experts have increasingly warned that Article 66(d) is being used as a tool to crack down on political expression.

“The detention of Kyaw Min Swe and Ko Ko Maung, on the grounds that a satirical article was defamatory to the armed forces, is another worrying indication of how Myanmar’s military sees satire and critique as criminal acts,” said James Tager, Free Expression Program Manager at PEN America. “Article 66(d) is being used as a tool to silence such political expression, and this detention demonstrates how the concept of ‘defamation’ is being weaponized to restrict the bounds of political conversation within Myanmar. Myanmar’s legislature should begin procedures to amend or repeal this provision, with an eye towards ensuring free expression and towards de-criminalizing defamation charges.”

PEN America, the literature and free expression advocacy group, advocates for the freedom to write around the world. PEN America’s engagement on Myanmar free expression issues includes the December 2015 report “Unfinished Freedom: A Blueprint for the Future of Free Expression in Myanmar,” a review of restrictions on free expression within the country. Report versions are available in both English and Burmese. PEN America also supported the publication of a Free Expression Scorecard, produced by PEN Myanmar and 13 additional partners in May 2017, which assessed the current landscape for free expression under the National League for Democracy government and found a significant shortfall in reforming existing laws restricting free speech and media freedom.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more, visit pen.org

CONTACT
Sarah Edkins, PEN America: sedkins@pen.org, +1 646.779.4830