Maubin, Myanmar – A Myanmar court sentenced activist Chaw Sandi Tun on Monday, 28 December 2015, to six months in prison for a Facebook post questioning the similarity of the color of the new uniform for army officers with that of a sarong worn by main opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Chaw Sandi Tun, age 25 and a member of the political party National League for Democracy (NLD), was arrested last October 12 at a mediation center in Yangon. Without explanations, she was taken and spent the night in jail in the Maubin district of Ayeyawaddy Division.
“Although the defendant’s lawyer said that the accused is not responsible for the concerned post because the accused’s account was hacked the day before, the plaintiffs and ministry of Telecommunication, Information and Technology provided evidence that show the post and photos were uploaded using the real account of the accused,” the judge read the court decision in Burmese.
“All citizens should be equal under the law. I want to ask the why wife of information minister U Ye Htut had not been charged for her post insulting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Chaw Sandi Tun before taken to the jail in Maubin. Ye Htut’s wife posted a fake image of Aung San Suu Kyi wearing an Islamic headscarf under the title of “Woman of the Week” last year. On his wife’s behalf, Ye Htut apologized to Suu Kyi when they met in parliament.
Ei Ei San, mother of Chaw Sandi Tun said that the sentence is unfair although they expected the maximum three-year sentence.
“Since she was arrested and charged, we expected she would be handed down the maximum penalty although my daughter is not responsible for the post,” she said after the verdict.
She would appeal for the sentence after the country’s independence day on January 4.
“We are expecting that she would be released on the Independence Day under the amnesty. Otherwise, we would appeal for her,” she said.
On social media and satire
Internet users observed that the army’s new uniform matches the clothing of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Chaw Sandi Tun’s Facebook post read: “If you love her (Suu Kyi) so much, put a piece of her longyi (sarong) on your head.”
In Myanmar, a sarong is usually worn around the waist and some people consider it offensive for men to wear what is considered women’s clothing.
The Southwestern Military Command based in delta region filed charges against Chaw Sandi Tun at the Maubin district court citing Section 66(d) of Myanmar’s 2013 Telecommunications Law, which 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.”
In late October, Chaw Sandi Tun was notified of an additional charge citing Article 500 of Penal Code, another law on defamation with lesser penalties. However, this charge was dropped because the person directly concerned did not file the complaint.
A Kachin peace activist, Patrick Khun Ja Lee, was arrested on October 14, two days after Chaw Sandi Tun’s arrest, as he shared a Facebook post showing someone stepping on a photo of military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
He was charged for defamation under Section 66(d) and faces a three-year prison sentence.
A young poet Maung Saungkha was arrested in early November. The police filed a case against him under the Telecommunications Law for a social media post in October suggesting he had a tattoo of the president’s name on his penis.
An NLD party member filed a lawsuit against Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) member Than Tun at Kangyidaung in Ayeyawaddy delta region in late November. He shared in Facebook a fake photo of a nude image with Suu Kyi’s head. The USDP member was arrested days after NLD won in the November 8 elections.
There are also lawsuits against two satirists in Yangon in November for their posts on social media.
Internet freedom’s decline
The 2004 Electronic Transaction Law, amended in 2014, prohibits any electronic communications considered “detrimental to the security of the State or prevalence of law and order or community peace and tranquility of national solidarity or national economy of national culture.”
Digital manipulation that “insult” or “disturb” may be considered defamation under the Electronic Transaction Law and is punishable by five years’ imprisonment.
Authorities in Myanmar, who are highly sensitive to comments and criticism, use these draconian laws to restrict social media use particularly against posts that use humor to mock the government, military, and Buddhism.
According to Freedom House’s survey in December, Myanmar’s Internet freedom status was recently downgraded from “partly free” in 2014 to “not free” in 2015, and ranked last among 65 countries along with Iran, Cuba, and neighboring China.
(Report and photo by Kyaw Ye Lynn, a 2014 SEAPA fellow.)