YANGON—In the 45 months since the Union Parliament’s current term began, 37 civilians have been sued by members of Parliament and their associates for defaming parliamentarians, according to a report by Athan, a Myanmar organization advocating for freedom of expression.
Under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, from March 2016 to November 2019, members of parliament and their representatives have opened 22 lawsuits against people who allegedly criticized lawmakers over the performance of their duties.
Of these 22 lawsuits, 13 were filed directly by 11 different members of Parliament at police stations against 30 civilians for raising criticisms.
The remaining nine lawsuits were filed by associates close to the allegedly criticized lawmakers and targeted 24 civilians for voicing similar opinions.
Athan’s report said that the 13 lawsuits by lawmakers were filed under the Telecommunications Law. Six other lawsuits were filed under the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens and three were filed under Section 500 of the Penal Code for defamation.
Athan member Ko Ye Wai Phyo Aung told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that most of the lawsuits against civilians are for political criticisms against parliamentarians.
All 11 members of Parliament who sued civilians directly are members of the ruling NLD party.
Ko Ye Wai Phyo Aung said that according to international standards regarding democracy and freedom of expression, politicians and government leaders should not sue those who criticize them. He added that in some countries, members of parliament are prohibited by law from suing civilians or activists who criticize them, but Myanmar lacks norms or rules of this kind.
”Even the MP who [Athan] named as a champion of freedom of expression has used the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens to sue people,” said Ko Ye Wai Phyo Aung, referring to U Tin Aung Tun, who attempted to reform the Telecommunications Law in 2017. “The main need is to amend such laws [used to restrict freedom of expression].”
Lawyer U Kyi Myint, who has also been sued by the Myanmar military under the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the government must amend such laws that restrict freedom of expression if it wants to become a real government of the people.
He also said that the government should adopt a law that prohibits lawsuits by members of Parliament against civilians or between civilians if the lawsuits encroach on freedom of expression.
Athan’s report also urged the members of Parliament to understand the values of democracy and to pay attention to and be patient with criticisms by civilians. It asked lawmakers to stop violating the right to freedom of expression and to withdraw their lawsuits against civilians immediately.
The military has also filed 30 cases related to freedom of expression against 77 people using the Telecommunications Act and the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens, according to Athan.