Army Officer’s Daughter Jailed for Claiming Pressure to Vote for Military Proxy Party
By San Yamin Aung 7 December 2020
YANGON—An army officer’s daughter who wrote on Facebook in September that she and her family were being pressured to vote for the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) ahead of last month’s general election has been sentenced to nine months in prison with hard labor.
Ma Thinzar Than Min, the 25-year-old daughter of a medical assistant at Infantry Battalion No. 235 in Pakokku Township of Magwe Region, wrote on her Facebook account that her family was told to vote for the USDP, as her father is a soldier. She added that she intended to vote for her chosen party, the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), regardless. She wrote that as a result of her public support for the NLD, she had received threats telling her that her father’s rank was in danger, and also expressed fears that she could be in danger of a lawsuit due to her post.
According to the NLD’s branch office in Pakokku Township, the day after her comments were posted she was investigated at the local military barracks and later detained after Lieutenant Colonel Aung Khaing Win, representing the army, sued her under Article 505(a) of the Penal Code, which is a nonbailable offense. Under the article, it is an offense to cause or intend to cause members of the armed forces to mutiny or fail in or disregard their duties.
The military also sought two more online defamation charges brought against her under articles 66(d) and 68(a) of the Telecommunications Law. Approval from the Ministry of Transport and Communications is required before cases under the Telecommunications Law can proceed, however.
Ko Kyaw Kyaw of the NLD’s Pakokku Township branch, who followed the case, said the party tried to provide Ma Thinzar Than Min with legal assistance but never even got the chance to meet with her.
On Friday, the Pakokku Township Court found her guilty of violating Article 505(a), which carries a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment.
According to local media, the judge told the court he had taken the woman’s apology to the military during court hearings into consideration in handing down the sentence.
Ma Thinzar Than Min’s mother, who appeared near collapse after the court’s ruling on Friday, shouted her gratitude to the court for showing leniency, and also to those who had supported and stood by her daughter.
Lawyers for Ma Thinzar Than Min told local media it had been difficult to mount a strong defense due to a lack of evidence absolving the woman, along with their client’s apparent lack of interest in fighting the case.
After the court handed down its sentence, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) added Ma Thinzar Than Min to its list of political prisoners—defined as those being held for political reasons, including for holding, expressing or acting on their beliefs.
Ko Aung Myo Kyaw of the AAPP denounced the sentence as further evidence of the lack of freedom of expression in the country.
“Laws should protect citizens. But now they have become a tool to repress dissidents. Students and activists are also being sued and jailed for criticizing authorities,” he said.
He urged that all repressive being used to impede freedom of expression be amended or repealed at the soonest.
According to the AAPP, there are currently 36 political prisoners detained in Myanmar, including Ma Thinzar Than Min.
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