Facebook Firebrand Arrested Over Alleged Defamation of Burma’s Leaders

By Salai Thant Zin 5 May 2016

PATHEIN, Irrawaddy Division — Nay Myo Wai, ultra-nationalist provocateur and leader of a fringe political party, was arrested on Wednesday night outside Burma’s commercial capital Rangoon, after being sued for allegedly defaming the president, army chief and state counselor on social media.

Wai Yan Aung, an executive member of the Burma Teachers’ Federation, filed the lawsuit against him at a police station in Irrawaddy Division’s Kangyidaunt Township on Wednesday under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law. The litigant accused him of defaming President Htin Kyaw, Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, and of spreading Facebook posts and photos instigating unrest.

One of the posts featuring doctored images depicts Suu Kyi as a beggar and another portrays her in a sexually suggestive position with an accompanying speech bubble that leaves little doubt about the digital manipulator’s intended meaning, but which will not be relayed by this news outlet. A photo of Min Aung Hlaing is accompanied by a caption asserting that the commander-in-chief dare not stage a coup because he is secretly hoping to have an extramarital affair with the widow Suu Kyi.

Htin Kyaw is targeted in one post as the president of a government formed by the “prostitute” and “kalar” party, referring to Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and using a pejorative Burmese term used in modern times for Muslims of South Asian blood and also applied to British occupiers during the colonial era.

Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law stipulates punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for using a telecommunications network to defame. As well as being used by the previous, military-back government against dissidents who satirized the military on social media, a Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) township secretary received a six-month prison sentence for sharing doctored images on Facebook of the head of Suu Kyi transposed onto the body of a naked woman.

A police official from Irrawaddy Division told The Irrawaddy that local police in Rangoon and Irrawaddy Division searched his residence in Rangoon before arresting him on the Rangoon-Mandalay highway.

“We are detaining him now in Pathein Prison and are investigating the case,” he said. Pathein is the administrative capital of Irrawaddy Division.

Nay Myo Wai is chairman of the Peace and Diversity Party, which contested the 2015 general election on a strong anti-Muslim platform but failed to win any seats. He is a supporter of the prominent Buddhist nationalist group the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, popularly known by its Burmese-language acronym Ma Ba Tha.

Nay Myo Wai’s anti-Muslim invectives, including on social media, have gained him some notoriety. In May of last year, he issued Facebook posts threatening to physically attack and “feed pork curry” to participants of a nationwide Muslim conference in Rangoon, although the government ultimately refused permission for the conference.

Two Facebook accounts and three Facebook pages bearing his profile have been identified, and include his name, political party affiliation and phone number. Two of the three pages appear to be inactive. However, the others see regular uploads, including photos supporting anti-Muslim campaigns.

The litigant Wai Yan Aung said that, if he does not operate the accounts spreading defamatory posts and photos, Nay Myo Wai could have reported this to Facebook’s administrators—but he did not.

“For the case, I presented three pieces of evidence together with screenshots of posts from his account,” Wai Yan Aung said.

Additional reporting by San Yamin Aung and Zue Zue in Rangoon.