Parliamentary Committee Introduces Changes to Controversial Article 66(d)

By Htet Naing Zaw 18 November 2016

Parliament does not plan to scrap the controversial Article 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Law but will introduce some changes, according to the Lower House Transportation and Communication Committee.

“We plan to reduce the harsh penalties [prescribed in the law] but we won’t annul it. We will make necessary amendments,” said U Nay Pu Ba Swe, the secretary of the committee.

The Bill Committee, Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission, and Citizens’ Fundamental Rights Committee of Parliament will join a meeting on Tuesday during which the Bill Committee will propose changes.

The Irrawaddy interviewed several lawmakers and most of them agreed that Article 66 (d) was undemocratic, but that the law should remain in effect considering the country’s current situation.

Article 66(d) of Burma’s Telecommunications Law states that anyone found guilty of extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening any person by using any telecommunications network shall be punished with a maximum three years in prison, a fine, or both.

Lower House lawmaker U Lwin Ko Latt said that although checks and balances are exercised among four pillars—executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and the media—in a typical democratic system, all of these groups still have weaknesses within the country’s nascent democracy, and therefore certain laws are needed to ensure a balanced distribution of power.

“I don’t agree with revoking it. But I also don’t agree with exploiting this law to oppress people. If [concerned parties] abide by their ethics, these [law] articles will no longer need to be applied,” U Lwin Ko Latt told The Irrawaddy.

“The [maximum penalty of a] three-year jail term is too much,” he added, suggesting that this article should only be applied after negotiations fail between the government and the media.

Upper House lawmaker U Aung Thein said that laws like Article 66(d) are needed to control people who abuse freedom of expression.

“These laws are needed to control people who are swearing, but not speaking freely. If Article 66(d) were repealed, citizens would be subjected to defamation by those who would abuse freedom of expression,” said the lawmaker.

But Lower House lawmaker U Nay Myo Tun said Article 66(d) does not serve the interest of any citizen.

“Even if that law continues to be applied, it should be relaxed and bail should be granted. Currently, you can write what you feel online, be sued and be unable to apply for bail. It’s like you are punished in advance. It’s a bit harsh,” said U Nay Myo Tun, who is also a member of the Bill Committee.

“In defamation cases, the government can choose to sue the media under the media law, Section 505 of the Penal Code or other communication laws. It is unacceptable that it opts to sue under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, which does not allow bail and carries a tough punishment,” said Lower House lawmaker U Pe Than.

“In our country, new laws and provisions are enacted that overrule previous laws. This allows people to sue under more serious charges. This article should be scrapped once and for all,” said U Pe Than.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko