Parliamentary Commission Considers Changes to Defamation Law

By San Yamin Aung 19 December 2016

RANGOON — A parliamentary commission is considering changes to the controversial Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, which has often been used to silence political dissidents.

Parliament’s Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission is reviewing the law. The commission will consider reducing the law’s penalties to bring them more in line with existing laws, and it will considering narrowing what is considered defamation, said commission member U Maung Maung Ohn, an Upper House lawmaker from the National League for Democracy.

Article 66(d) states that whoever is convicted of using a “telecommunication network to extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb, inappropriately influence, or intimidate,” can be “punished with imprisonment for a term extending to a maximum of three years, and shall be liable to fine or both.”

“We are now talking about reducing the prison term to two years and also to allow the accused to be released on bail while an investigation is carried out,” said U Maung Maung Ohn.

The law was enacted under the previous government of U Thein Sein.

An increasing number of defamation charges have been brought against politicians, reporters, and social media users under Article 66(d). Activists have called for the controversial defamation law to be abolished or amended, saying that it denies citizens their freedom of speech and expression.

In many cases, the accused have been denied bail.

Under the NLD government, there have been at least 33 defamation cases brought between April and November, according to a legal team working on the case of Maung Saungkha, a writer and activist in Rangoon who was charged and sentenced under the statute.

So far, defendants have been arrested in 13 cases, and three have been sentenced to prison terms.

Only seven defamation cases were brought during the term of former President U Thein Sein, and only five of those received sentencing, according to Maung Saungkha’s legal team.