Court Jails Ailing Myanmar Filmmaker for a Year for Criticizing Military

By Zarni Mann 29 August 2019

MANDALAY—Insein Township Court in Yangon Region on Thursday sentenced a prominent filmmaker and human rights activist to one year in prison for defaming the military in posts on Facebook.

U Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who also founded the Human Rights, Human Dignity International Film Festival, was the subject of a defamation lawsuit filed in March by Lieutenant-Colonel Lin Htun of the Myanmar military’s Yangon Region Command under Article 505(a) of the Penal Code.

“U Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi is so sick that he only has a slim chance of surviving. The sentence is unfair and inhumane; it’s an inappropriate sentence for an ailing person. We will submit an appeal to a higher court very soon,” said the filmmaker’s lawyer, U Robert San Aung.

U Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi suffers from liver cancer. Just three months before he was detained in April, he underwent surgery to remove half of his liver.

“He has not received proper medical treatment in prison for his liver cancer. Moreover, he has kidney and heart problems as a consequence [of his incarceration], so we are very worried about his health,” the lawyer said.

“In addition, I would like to say the lawsuit against him, based on his Facebook posts, is unfair and undemocratic,” he added.

A strong critic of the military, U Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi posted a series of comments on Facebook criticizing the 2008 Constitution and the political role that it grants to the military.

Initially, the military officer filed a lawsuit against the ailing filmmaker under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law. As it is a bailable offense, however, the officer later filed another lawsuit under Article 505(a) of the Penal Code, which is non-bailable 

The filmmaker has spent about five months in Insein Prison, so he faces another seven months of detention to complete his sentence. Human rights activists, both at home and internationally, have called for his release. Thursday’s sentence does not affect the lawsuit against him under Article 66(d), which has yet to start but has not been dropped.

Maung Saungka, a human rights activist, said Thursday’s ruling was an “injustice piled on top of an injustice [referring to the original accusation]. We have objected to the lawsuit since the beginning as it violates freedom of expression.”

“We pray he will be strong enough to wait until he wins the appeal process and walks out of prison as a free man. We also want to urge the authorities to give him access to proper medical care,” U Robert San Aung added.

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