Myanmar Court Seeks Arrest of Lawyer and Poet in Military’s Lawsuit

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 23 January 2020

YANGON—A court in Tanintharyi Region issued warrants Monday for the arrest of lawyer U Kyi Myint and poet U Saw Wai for failing to appear in court for a case over their remarks on Myanmar’s constitutional amendment process.

The Myanmar military filed the case in Tanintharyi’s Kawthaung Township against three prominent political activists—U Kyi Myint, U Saw Wai and former Myanmar army captain Nay Myo Zin—for remarks they made in April about charter amendment, suing the three activists under Section 505 of the Penal Code for allegedly defaming the military and military leadership.

The Kawthaung Township Court began hearings in the case on Jan. 20 after sending summons letters to the defendants.

On Monday, only Nay Myo Zin, who is already serving a one-year prison term in Insein Prison on the same charge from another military lawsuit, appeared in court. The military’s plaintiff also did not appear in court on Monday.

Poet U Saw Wai, a former political prisoner, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant goes beyond what is allowed under the law, as he has not received any legal summons letter from the court.

“There has never been justice and there never will be as the judiciary is in the hands of the military. That is why we talked about supporting amendments to the charter,” said U Saw Wai.

Lawyer U Kyi Myint told reporters that he did not attend the court hearing because police haven’t conducted a proper investigation into the case, as required under Criminal Procedure Code Section 202.

On Thursday, U Kyi Myint told The Irrawaddy that he had already reported to the Kawthaung Township Court and police force that, due to the warrant, he will appear in court for the next hearing, scheduled for Feb. 3.

U Saw Wai added that the defendants will hold a press conference in Yangon on Saturday.

Section 505(a) of the Penal Code carries a penalty of up to two years in prison for making, publishing or circulating statements, rumors or reports intended to cause military officers to mutiny, or to fail in or disregard their duties. Anyone sued under Section 505(a) must be arrested and detained, as it is a non-bailable offense.

In November, 130 Myanmar civil society groups released a joint statement condemning the military’s attempt to prosecute the three activists and calling on the military to drop the case immediately.

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

Of the military’s 47 lawsuits, most have been filed by the military as a way to take action against its critics, the report said. Athan has also called on the military to drop its lawsuits and stop suing those that criticize it.