YANGON — The Ministry of Transport and Communications submitted a draft bill to amend Myanmar’s 2013 Telecommunications Law to the Upper House of the Parliament on Thursday.
The controversial statute enacted under the country’s former quasi-civilian government has been responsible for a worrying trend regarding freedom of expression in recent years. Its Article 66(d) has been used to charge more than 70 people with “online defamation,” including more than a dozen members of the media who have been detained and jailed.
Deputy minister for transport and communications U Kyaw Myo, who submitted the draft to Parliament, told the media after the legislative session that the law was originally enacted with the objective of protecting telecommunications service providers. However, as defamation charges under 66(d) have been steadily increasing against individuals, amendments were needed, he added.
Free speech advocates slammed the government’s draft bill after it was publicly released on Friday, pointing out that their recommendations had been neglected and claiming that in some ways, it had made the statute worse.
The draft included three significant changes to the Telecommunications Law. It states that the accused who are charged under articles 65 and 66(a), (b), and (d) may be granted bail, and that third parties would be banned from opening cases unless they are affected directly by the action or are acting on an affected individual’s behalf. Finally, charges filed under articles 66(c), (d), and 68(a) of the law would not require permission from the Ministry of Transport and Communication to proceed.
In Parliament on Thursday the Upper House Bill Committee praised the draft for facilitating bail options and thereby giving those accused under the law more opportunities to defend themselves, as well as for stopping third parties from opening cases without being granted the authority to do so from the complainant. They also commended the elimination of delays along with the requirement for cases to be approved by the Ministry of Transport and Communications.
The Bill Committee suggested that bail not be granted to those charged under Article 65, which states that those who provide telecommunications services without a license be sentenced to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, and asked to pay a fine.
The bill will be discussed in upcoming parliamentary sessions.
Additional reporting by Pe Thet Htet Khin in Naypyidaw.