Myanmar Court Grants Bail to Lawyer and Poet Sued by Military

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 3 February 2020

YANGON—Prominent political activists lawyer U Kyi Myint and poet U Saw Wai were granted bail by the township court in Kawthaung, Tanintharyi Region on Monday. The court cited the defendants’ old age and health concerns.

The Myanmar military sued U Kyi Myint, age 75, and U Saw Wai, age 60, for defamation for remarks they made in April about constitutional amendment under Section 505(a) of the Penal Code, which carries a penalty of up to two years in prison. Defendants sued under the statute are normally denied bail but the elderly, women and people suffering from diseases are allowed to apply for an exception.

The Myanmar military filed its lawsuit in October against U Kyi Myint, U Saw Wai and former Myanmar army captain Nay Myo Zin.

U Kyi Myint and U Saw Wai appeared in court on Monday after the court issued a warrant for their arrest last month. The warrant was nullified after the two attended Monday’s hearing.

After Monday’s decision, only Nay Myo Zin, who is already serving a one-year prison term in Insein Prison on the same charge from another military lawsuit, will remain in detention.

”We are happy to have a chance to defend ourselves fairly against the lawsuit. I am also satisfied since we managed to open up the possibility of bail under Section 505 of the Penal Code,” U Saw Wai told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

The court granted the two defendants bail because of their ages and because they were able to prove they are suffering from heart disease. The court reportedly set their bail at 10 million kyats each (US$6,865).

”As aging men, we are happy that we were granted bail. But I am sorry for those students, farmers and laborers sued under Section 505 who have not been granted bail. Section 505 should be amended to allow for bail,” said U Kyi Myint.

The next court hearing in the lawsuit is scheduled for Feb. 17.

When the military filed its suit in November 2019, 130 Myanmar civil society groups condemned the suit as an attempt to suppress the activists and called on the military to drop the case immediately.

Over the past four years, the Myanmar military has filed at least 47 lawsuits against 96 people, including 51 activists, 14 journalists, five religious representatives, four artists, three members of political parties and 19 other individuals, according to a recent report by Athan, a group advocating for the right to freedom of expression in Myanmar.

According to Athan, most of the lawsuits by the military are attempts to take action against its critics. Athan and others have called on the military to drop its cases and stop suing those who raise criticisms against it.

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