Guest Column

The Worrying Trend of Article 66(d)

By Bo Kyi 24 November 2016

I have learned that problems need to be solved so as not to make them worse.

We have noticed a worrying trend of individuals being detained under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law for insulting state leaders. In addition, we have found that it is often third parties, not the victims themselves, who are filing charges under this law.

The Telecommunication Law was enacted under the previous Thein Sein government. It has been, and still is, used to stifle political dissent and should be bought before Parliament to discuss its repeal or amendment under the new National League for Democracy government.

The Telecommunications Law is made up of 19 chapters and 89 sections—chapter 18 details offenses and penalties. While there are many issues connected to the Telecommunications Law, this discussion is focused on Article 66(d) due to its increasing popularity over the last year.

In Chapter I of the Telecommunications Law, telecommunications is defined as: The transmission or reception of information in its original or modified form by wire, fiber optic cable or any conducting cable or by means of radio waves, light rays, or other forms of electromagnetic transmissions.

Telecommunications Network, meanwhile is defined as: a system that utilizes any telecommunication technology to connect a network of communication facilities, telecommunication equipment, computers, any peripherals used in conjunction with any or more of the above, through a compatible system and equipment by means of any form of wired or wireless communication technology.

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

Those who use telecommunication tools—emails, messaging services and social media—in Burma must carefully review the news they share before doing so. Posts on social media can be recorded and used as evidence to open a legal case against someone.

If individuals want to criticize the government or military leaders, it should be done so without using insults, dirty language, and attacks on their personal lives. Without taking these precautions, individuals are at risk of prosecution.

Article 66(d) has quickly, and unexpectedly, become a tool to stifle people speaking out.

The government should not be acting against such minor cases such as defamatory social media posts. If the government would like to prevent such statements, they should educate and encourage the population to constructively criticize rather than insult individual members of the government on a personal level.

The provisions in Article 66(d) are already enacted in other criminal legislation, for example, Article 500 of the Penal Code outlines “defamation.” The differences lie in the punishment.

The Telecommunications Law states a punishment of “three years or to a fine or to both” whereas the Penal Code states “two years or with fine or both.” On conviction, the penalties are more severe under the Telecommunications Law.

Article 66(d) is an unnecessary provision in the Telecommunications Law. Its punishments are severe in relation to the crime, and there are other laws within Burmese domestic legislation that cover the same issues.

Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law should be removed—it is better for the country’s future if we try to solve problems by discussing them patiently while fostering the culture of democracy and compromise from all sides.

Arrests should only be made if there is no other choice as there are many disadvantages behind an arrest—both the individual and the state will lose financially. After an arrest, it is the responsibility of the state to ensure the basic needs and healthcare of the detained individual.

Burma’s government is unable to fund its prisons. If sufficient food, medical treatment and general conditions are not adequate, the dignity and health of prisoners will decline. It is possible a prisoner’s life will be at risk from the conditions they are subjected to.

Burma’s prisons are overcrowded. This is in part due to an imbalance between crimes and punishments. Many prisoners are serving harsh sentences for minor crimes—such as those incarcerated under Article 66(d). Prison reform policy meant to address conditions in prisons is underfunded.

One of the major issues is that the Burmese population’s knowledge of the law is weak. Burma needs to improve awareness of the law. It cannot be assumed that 51 million people have knowledge of the legal system if they only have access to information the government states in the media.

While exercising the right to freedom of expression, everyone needs to take personal responsibility not to insult others.

Bo Kyi is joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Protection