Myanmar Freedom of Expression Advocates Call on Military to Stop Suing Critics

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 8 January 2020

YANGON – Over almost four years, the military has sued 96 critics, according to Athan, a group advocating freedom of expression.

Since the National League for Democracy (NLD) government took office in April 2016, the military has opened 47 lawsuits against 96 people, including 51 activists, 19 individual citizens, 14 journalists, five religious representatives, four artists and three members of political parties.

The military used the Telecommunications Law, penal code, laws protecting privacy and security and the Unlawful Association Act.

Of the 47 lawsuits, 18 cases had received rulings by the courts and 13 lawsuits were ongoing.

The military dismissed seven lawsuits and three cases were thrown out by the courts.

Six lawsuits were stuck at various legal stages, said Athan.

Ko Ye Wai Phyo Aung of the group told The Irrawaddy that most military lawsuits were in response to criticism about human rights violations by the armed forces and demands for amendments to the military-drafted 2008 Constitution.

By mid-2019, the military opened eight lawsuits using the notorious Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Laws and the penal code against Thangyat troupe leaders and members from the Daungdohmyoset (Peacock Generation) Thangyat for criticizing the military through satirical performances.

The military sued lawyer U Kyee Myint, poet U Saw Wai and former military captain Nay Myo Zin for calling for constitutional amendments under Article 505 of the penal code.

In April 2019, the military sued The Irrawaddy under Article 66(d) for its coverage of clashes with the Arakan Army in the historic town of Mrauk-U in Rakhine State.

The military also sued an Irrawaddy reporter and two Democratic Voice of Burma employees under Article 17 of the Unlawful Association Act while they were reporting in northern Shan State.

“We urge the military to drop all charges and release all detainees concerning criticism cases,” said Ko Ye Wai Phyo Aung.

The group said the military should reduce its political involvement and respect freedom of expression and allow the media to report on news stories.

The NLD has also sued 37 civilians for criticizing parliamentarians.

The military’s True News service was unavailable for comment.