RANGOON — The ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) refused to allow a party lawmaker to question the government over controversial Article 66(d) of Burma’s Telecommunication Law in Parliament, insisting the government had plans for amending the law.
The party’s Upper House Lawmaker from Sagaing Division U Ye Htut claimed his question on plans to repeal or amend the law was postponed by the NLD’s parliamentary questions supervising group led by U Win Htein, at a parliamentary recess in Naypyidaw on Friday.
“I wanted to raise the question, as I see the article has become a threat to the freedom of the press…and there is no fairness on granting bail [for the accused],” he said.
The group told U Ye Htut the government already had plans to amend Article 66(d), he said, adding it was the second time he was denied permission to put forward a question about the law to Parliament.
Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law is a criminal law provision that permits penalties of up to three years in prison for “extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening any person using a telecommunications network.”
The broad wording of the law and its bail restrictions for those accused of violating the statute mean it has been criticized by human rights and free speech activists, who have called for the article to be repealed.
There have been 68 defamation cases filed under Article 66(d) since 2013—seven cases under former President U Thein Sein’s administration, which created the statute, and 61 cases under the NLD government.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said at a press conference on Friday that the government was committed to amending, but not repealing, Article 66(d) after meeting with permanent secretary of the Ministry of Information Myo Myint Maung on Thursday.
Draft legislation was with the Ministry of Communications and Transport and had been seen by the attorney general, CPJ representatives said, lamenting the fact that the NLD government committed only to amending the law from criminal to civic but not repealing it entirely.
“No one wants this law repealed,” CPJ quoted Myo Myint Maung as saying at Thursday’s meeting, adding that it took this as the NLD’s attitude to the law.
Some 14 journalists have been charged under the law, with the latest case coming against The Voice Daily’s chief editor and writer who were sued by the Burma Army over a satirical article.
Ko Maung Saung Kha, a poet who was sentenced and jailed under Article 66(d) and now leads a research team on The Telecommunication Law, said the NLD should have allowed the question to be put forward to the Parliament.
“It might be because they already have a plan to amend, but they could pass the question and explain in Parliament what they are doing and where they have difficulties,” he said. “I think people have the right to know,” he added.
“Article 66(d) must be repealed, not amended,” Ko Maung Saung Kha said.