PATHEIN, Irrawaddy Division — A political activist has filed a lawsuit against a leader of Burma’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in Irrawaddy Division for sharing an image of the face of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi transposed onto the body of a nude woman.
The photo, which shows a bare-breasted, fully nude woman with Suu Kyi’s face, was accompanied by a text reading: “What is USDP?”, “USDP is my underwear,” and a string of vulgar, sexual language.
Shared by Facebook user “Thu Thu” on Sept. 2, the image quickly stirred controversy. Sithu Aung, a volunteer with Hand to Hand Free Education Network, filed the lawsuit against Than Tun, joint secretary of the Kangyidaunt Township chapter of the USDP, alleging that he was the owner of the account.
“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a well-known leader in both Myanmar [Burma] and around the world. She is respected among the people, and I assume that this is a deliberate act of defamation,” Sithu Aung said. “Therefore, as a citizen, I filed the lawsuit.”
Sithu Aung said that he initially took the matter to the township’s electoral dispute resolution committee, which arbitrated a deal between himself and the accused. Than Tun had agreed to make an “official apology” for the post, Sithu Aung said, but later said he would not do it in the presence of the media.
“So I filed the lawsuit because the settlement failed,” said plaintiff Sithu Aung.
Police in Kangyidaut confirmed that the suit had been filed on Oct. 17 under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, the same provision used against aid worker Patrick Khum Jaa Lee following allegations that he shared a photo on Facebook defaming Burma Army Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.
The law carries penalties of up to three years in prison for using “a telecommunication network to extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb, inappropriately influence or intimidate.”
The case is the latest in a string of defamation claims prompted by Facebook posts, though it is the first known case to target a member of the ruling party as opposed to a member of the opposition. Whether the case results in an arrest or punishment could serve as major indicator of the judiciary’s commitment to equal application of defamation laws that are viewed by many as tools used to limit opposition.
Patrick Khum Jaa Lee, who is also the husband of renowned peace and women’s rights activist May Sabe Phyu, is currently being held without bail at Rangoon’s Insein Prison after being accused of sharing a photo of a man wearing traditional ethnic Kachin attire stomping on a photograph of the Commander-in-Chief.
His wife told The Irrawaddy on Friday that she met with him in detention, where he maintained that he did not share the image in question and was forced to sign a confession.
The case came to light only days after 25-year-old Chaw Sandi Tun was arrested in Irrawaddy Division for sharing a satirical post likening new army uniforms to Suu Kyi’s htamein, the female version of a longyi, suggesting that officers wear it on their heads.
Chaw Sandi Tun was charged under Article 34(d) of the 2004 Electronic Transactions Law, also a defamation clause, carrying penalties of up to five years in prison. Earlier this year, a freelance photographer was arrested under the same clause, but was freed after three days of interrogation.
The US State Department and London-based rights group Amnesty International both issued separate statements last week demanding that Khum Jaa Lee and Chaw Sandi Tun be immediately exonerated.
News has emerged of another case; Lu Zaw Soe Win was similarly accused of posting swearwords on social media said to defame the government. He was reportedly arrested on Friday in Rangoon and remains in custody.
According to the Kangyidaunt Township police, Than Tun has not been arrested but is expected to soon be detained and face trial.