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Mandalay-based freelance journalist Zaw Moe Htet is being sued after posting comments on Facebook about the chief minister of Kachin State.
Dr. Aung Mai, the son of Kachin State chief minister Dr. Khet Aung, filed a lawsuit on Saturday under Telecommunications Act Article 66(d), which covers “online defamation”. Zaw Moe Htet was subsequently arrested yesterday in Mandalay.
“He [Zaw Moe Htet] wrote a post on Facebook about the chief minister and his son,” said police officer Sub-Lt Kyaw Myo Thein of Myitkyina Myoma police station in Kachin State, speaking to DVB earlier. “Dr. Aung Mai, the plaintiff, pressed charges on 26 August.”
According to Jet Net, a friend of Zaw Moe Htet, the freelance journalist had posted a tongue-in-cheek comment, thanking the chief minister for confiscating 40 backhoes in an incident regarding a construction firm.
But he concluded his post with the comment: “Dr. Khet Aung is the worst of all the chief ministers in Myanmar.”
Zaw Moe Htet also mentioned that permits and land grants in Kachin State were issued via the chief minister’s son, Dr. Aung Mai.
The post and comments were later deleted from Zaw Moe Htet’s Facebook account and he issued an apology.
Zaw Moe Htet becomes the 18th journalist charged or detained for “online defamation” since Aung San Suu Kyi’s government took power last year.
Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have called for the Telecommunications Act to be repealed. In a joint statement in June, they said the law had “increasingly been used to stifle criticism of the authorities”.
But some members of Suu Kyi’s ruling party have defended the law as useful for curbing hate speech and false news, especially as social media use has dramatically increased in recent years.
On 18 August, both the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament amended the Telecommunications Act to make Article 66(d) a bailable offence, however they stopped short of repealing the law.