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E-defamation in crosshairs at digital showcase

Chaw Sandi Htun at a court appearance on 27 October. She was one of several Facebook users found guilty of defamation under the Telecommunications Law in recent years. (Photo: Lin Satt Aung)

Information technology professionals gathered yesterday at the CommuniCast Myanmar 2016 conference at Novotel Yangon Max to discuss the country’s digital future. However, while they were officially there to showcase satellite, fibre optics and broadcasting technologies, they also used the opportunity to demand the right to free expression from the NLD-led government.

At least 29 people have been charged under section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law as of mid-November. This part of the law makes “extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening to any person by using any Telecommunications Network” punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine. The law was passed in 2013 to provide security to foreign investors but has infamously been used to punish critics of the Burmese government and military.

Tun Thura Thet from Myanmar Information Technology Pte Ltd told Eleven at the exhibition: “The law sends a message that [defamation] brings heavier punishments if it happens on the internet than it does in real life. If such cases happen on the internet, the accuracy must be solid. Is the doctored photo real? Is the person in question the real culprit? There are many things to consider.”

“The Telecommunications Law should be specific, and defamation should be handled by the defamation law,” he said.

He added that an amended Telecommunications Law should clearly delineate the difference between free expression and hate speech and should balance the public’s right to information with the right to privacy.

Another IT professional told Eleven: “The Telecommunications Law seemed to be rushed. Section 66[d] should be included in cyber laws, specifically. We should also think about how the particular law was drafted. There were conflicts about Section 66[d], and many people pointed out that hate speech on Facebook instigated many conflicts, so lawmakers drafted Section 66[d] to handle these issues. But its original purpose seems to be fading.”

Section 66(d) has gained attention over the last few months after the CEO and chief editor of Eleven Media were jailed and denied bail after publishing an article that accused Rangoon Division Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein of taking a bribe from a drug kingpin.

NLD member and political researcher Myo Yan Naung Thein was also charged and jailed under the controversial law for criticizing Burma military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing for his execution of clearance operations against Rohingya villages in Arakan State since October.

This story was originally published by Coconuts Yangon here.