Yangon, Myanmar – On 22 January 2016, a court in Hlaing township in Yangon sentenced Kachin activist Patrick Khum Jaa Lee to six months in prison over a Facebook post about army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
Patrick Khum Jaa Lee was arrested on 14 October 2015 at his home in Yangon and has been in prison since then. He was charged under Section 66(d) of Myanmar’s 2013 Telecommunications Law for sharing a photo of a man dressed in traditional Kachin longyi (sarong) stepping on the image of the army chief.
The law states that “Whoever commits any of the following acts shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to a fine or to both: (D) Extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening to any person by using any Telecommunications Network.”
“(This case is not just because it involves the) commander in chief of armed forces, even stepping on an image of an ordinary person is considered disrespectful in Myanmar’s society,” reads the judge’s decision.
“They will have to put many others in jail if a case was decided by the practices of our society,” said May Sabe Phyu, wife of Patrick Khum Jaa Lee and a women’s rights activist.
When rights are denied
“His blood pressure is not stable and he is suffering from some diseases. I fear that he would not have access to a proper heath care in jail,” said May Sabe Phyu said.
Since he was detained, Patrick Khum Jaa Lee has been denied bail on numerous occasions despite appeals on the grounds of his deteriorating health. His wife said that the bail was denied “without giving any proper reasons.”
“They denied the basic rights of a citizen,” she added.
“The law itself denies a citizen’s rights as it opposes the Constitution that grants the freedom of expression,” said defense lawyer El Kunyein Pang.
‘No respect for free expression’
May Sabe Phyu said that the concerned photo was used by some Kachin people in Malaysia in a protest against Myanmar’s army in January 2013. “Therefore, it is very clear that my husband did not create that photo,” she said.
She explained that there is no concrete digital evidence to prove that the photo was uploaded by her husband. “Even if they can prove it, the post doesn’t intend to insult anyone. But just to remind others not to share the post anymore,” she said.
In the Facebook post, the photo’s caption was “Please stop sharing this post.” “That simply shows that there was no intention to insult anyone, even if he was the one who they considered posted it,” said El Kunyein Pang.
Myanmar ICT Development Organization (MIDO), a local freedom of expression advocate group, had provided several digital evidence that Patrick Khun Jaa Lee’s account was hacked the day before.
“No matter how the lawyer chose to defend in court, they would sentence him more or less,” said May Sabe Phyu. “We realized he would be jailed since he was arrested because the authority does not respect freedom of expression,” she said.
Last December, a court sentenced activist Chaw Sandi Tun to six months in prison for defaming the army uniform.
Human rights groups have criticized Myanmar authorities for continuing to use these laws that limit free expression in the country.
(Report and photo by Kyaw Ye Lynn, a 2014 SEAPA fellow.)