Facebook Defamation Trial Deferred, No Bail

By The Irrawaddy 27 October 2015

RANGOON — Patrick Khum Jaa Lee, who was arrested earlier this month over a Facebook post deemed to defame the Burma Army, remains in custody after his second court hearing was deferred on Tuesday.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy outside Rangoon’s Hlaing Township court, the defendant’s wife May Sabe Phyu—herself a renowned rights activist—said her husband’s appeal for bail has also been deferred until his next court appearance.

His trial will continue on Nov. 6 because the plaintiff in the case, a Lt-Col for the Burma Army, failed to appear at today’s hearing, May Sabe Phyu said.

Patrick Khum Jaa Lee was arrested on Oct. 14 and charged under Article 66(d) of Burma’s Telecommunications Law. He is accused of sharing a photo of Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing being trampled on by a man in traditional Kachin attire, which the complainant claimed was defamatory.

The day after his arrest, Khum Jaa Lee was denied bail and transferred to Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison. His wife was allowed to visit him on Oct. 16, after which she told The Irrawaddy that he denied sharing the image in question and was told to sign a confession that he did not have a chance to review.

May Sabe Phyu said on Tuesday that her husband’s health was suffering while in custody and reiterated her plea for release on bail, claiming his asthma and stomach problems could be exacerbated by his time in prison.

“We want to apply for bail as my husband is not feeling well,” she said outside the courthouse. “Plus he didn’t do anything wrong.”

Khum Jaa Lee is one of three people facing defamation charges under the controversial provision for content shared to social media site Facebook. The law outlines penalties of up to three years in prison.

One incident involves a member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) accused of defaming opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi by sharing a digitally altered image of her face transposed on a naked body.

The third case was filed against a 23-year-old activist who shared a poem suggested he had a tattoo of the president on his penis.

In a similar case, a young woman named Chaw Sandi Tun was arrested on Oct. 12 after sharing an image likening new army uniforms to Suu Kyi’s htamein, the female version of traditional longyi, and suggesting that soldiers should wear it on their heads—a grave insult in Burma’s staunchly patriarchal society.

Chaw Sandi Tun was charged under Article 34(d) of the Electronic Transactions Law, which carries penalties of up to five years in prison.