YANGON — The Lower House Bill Committee called to reduce the maximum prison term under Article 66 of the Telecommunications Law including online defamation charges to less than three years on Thursday.
The law, which was enacted in 2013 under former President Thein Sein, is undergoing amendment.
Article 66(d), a controversial law that limits freedom of expression online, currently provides for a maximum prison sentence of up to three years for anyone convicted of “extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening to any person by using any Telecommunications Network.”
The law has been, and still is, used to stifle political dissent, through punishment that is severe in relation to the crime. It has been used to charge more than 80 people with “online defamation,” including more than a dozen members of the media who have been detained and jailed.
A member of the Lower House Bill Committee, U Tun Tun Hein, told parliamentarians on Thursday that the term of imprisonment must be reduced in order for those accused under the statute to be guaranteed bail in line with criminal procedure.
The Upper House approved amendments of the law on Aug. 2 without reducing the imprisonment term. The amended bill states that those charged under Articles 65, 66(a), (b) and (d) “may” be granted bail, leaving it to the judge’s discretion.
According to Myanmar’s criminal procedure, charges that can be accompanied by three or more years in prison do not permit bail to be granted.
“This point makes it clear that bail is not allowable under Article 66,” U Tun Tun Hein told parliamentarians on Thursday.
“If we amend the imprisonment to less than three years, these will become bailable charges in line with existing law [criminal procedure],” he added.
The Lower House Bill Committee presented their observations on the draft amendment of the law that has been approved in the Upper House. The committee praised the changes, saying they give the accused greater chances to defend themselves, stop third parties from filing cases and expedite legal action.
The Lower House will discuss the amendments in the upcoming session.