Court Drops 1 of 2 Defamation Charges in Suit Over Military Insult

By San Yamin Aung 14 December 2015

RANGOON — A court in Irrawaddy Division on Monday dropped one of two defamation charges brought against Chaw Sandi Tun, a National League for Democracy (NLD) supporter who remains on trial for allegedly sharing a satirical Facebook post deemed insulting to the military.

Chaw Sandi Tun was arrested in October and charged under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law after she was accused of sharing the offending post, which compared newly redesigned military uniforms to a green traditional htamein, a female longyi, worn by NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi. The image was considered insulting to Burma’s powerful military establishment.

An additional charge was brought against her by the division’s Maubin Township Court in late October, under Article 500 of the Penal Code, also a defamation clause.

“The Article 500 [charge] was discharged at the court today, but the charge under Article 66[d] remains,” the defendant’s lawyer Robert San Aung told The Irrawaddy on Monday, adding that the defense had requested at a previous hearing that all charges be thrown out, as the complainant was unable to offer compelling evidence to back the allegations.

Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law stipulates punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for using a telecommunications network to defame.

Robert San Aung expressed optimism at how the trial was proceeding, citing the court’s decision to drop one of the charges on Monday and the presiding judge’s willingness to grant full rights of defense to his client.

Chaw Sandi Tun’s next court hearing is scheduled for Dec. 21, when the court will begin taking testimony from the defense’s witnesses. Monday’s hearing was the defendant’s eighth since she was detained.

Her case is one of at least four currently making their way through the courts that involve charges based on social media posts. A similar prosecution has been brought against aid worker Patrick Khum Jaa Lee, who has been jailed—with several requests for bail denied—since October over a Facebook post he disputes sharing.

A young poet in Rangoon was detained on Nov. 5 after posting a poem on Facebook claiming that he had an image of President Thein Sein tattooed on his penis, and Than Tun, a Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) official, is facing trial for allegedly doctoring a photo of the NLD’s Suu Kyi, whose face was transposed onto the body of a naked woman in the offending image.