PATHEIN, Irrawaddy Region — A local court in Pathein on Monday sentenced a human rights activist to three months in prison for broadcasting live on Facebook a drama deemed to be critical of the Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw).
The Tatmadaw’s Southwestern Command sued nine students for defamation in January last year after they staged a performance at the Pathein Hotel in Pathein, the capital of Irrawaddy Region, depicting Tatmadaw clashes with ethnic armed groups. The performance was staged amid peace discussions.
U Htun Htun Oo, leader of the Human Rights Activists Association—a Pathein-based civil society organization—was also sued the by the command under Article 66 (d) of the 2013 Myanmar Telecommunications Law for broadcasting the drama live on the social media platform.
“The judicial sector is under pressure. Article 66 (d) directly bars the rights and freedoms of citizens enshrined in the Constitution. So as long as there are laws that restrict freedom of expression, there will still be defendants like me,” U Htun Htun Oo told The Irrawaddy after the trial.
In April, Pathein Township Court fined eight of nine students who staged the drama.
Two students were fined 50,000 kyats each, and six others were fined 30,000 kyats each. Pathein Township Court issued an arrest warrant for the ninth student, Myo Ko Ko, after he failed to appear in court.
The students performed a satirical comedy in which a news agency called “Oxygen” interviews supporters of conflict in Myanmar. During the play, one character, a soldier’s wife, claims to support war because wives can have affairs while their soldier husbands are away fighting.
The Tatmadaw was not amused by that part of the play and filed the lawsuit in response.
“They were accused of performing dialogue that defamed soldiers and their wives. When I examined them, [I found that] they did perform that dialogue and U Htun Htun Oo broadcast it live on Facebook. So, I decided he also bears responsibility and I delivered this verdict. I was not pressured to make this verdict,” Pathein Township Judge U Win Aung told The Irrawaddy.
The judge said he limited the punishment to a fine, and intended it as a warning, saying they are still young and only intended for the play to be viewed by the people in the hall of the Pathein Hotel, where its impact would be limited.
However, the judge said, U Htun Htun Oo is an adult and his live stream was viewed by people around the world. Therefore, he sentenced him to prison so that he will consider the consequences of his actions on other people before he acts next time, said the judge.
The controversial Article 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Law carries a maximum three years’ imprisonment.