Kachin Aid Worker Sentenced to 6 Months in Facebook Defamation Case

By Moe Myint 22 January 2016

RANGOON — Kachin aid worker Patrick Khum Jaa Lee, who was arrested over a Facebook post deemed to defame the Burma Army, was sentenced on Friday to six months in prison minus time served, just hours after a presidential amnesty freed dozens of others viewed as prisoners of conscience.

The sentence was handed down by Justice Kyi Sein at Rangoon’s Hlaing Township Court on Friday afternoon.

Khum Jaa Lee, 43, was arrested in October of last year and charged under Burma’s Telecommunications Law for allegedly sharing a photo of a man dressed in traditional Kachin attire stomping on an image of Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.

He has denied sharing the content in question and says he was coerced into signing a confession.

Numerous requests for bail, premised on his deteriorating health, have been denied throughout his months-long detention. Khum Jaa Lee suffers from hypertension and asthma, according to his wife, renowned peace and women’s rights activist May Sabe Phyu.

His arrest sparked international outcry as one of a rash of criminal defamation charges related to social media in the lead-up to a Nov. 8 general election.

Just days before Khum Jaa Lee was jailed, a young supporter of the opposition, Chaw Sandi Tun, was arrested over a Facebook post likening military uniforms to women’s clothing. She was sentenced to six months in prison on Dec. 28.

At least 52 political prisoners were freed from penitentiaries across the country on Friday as part of a presidential amnesty, including land rights activists and a New Zealand national convicted for insulting religion.

More than 400 other political detainees remain imprisoned or awaiting trial on politically motivated charges, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

A top US diplomat on Monday urged outgoing President Thein Sein to free all remaining prisoners of conscience before his term ends in late March.

His military-backed party will hand over power to the National League for Democracy (USDP), the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, which secured a landslide win in the November polls.