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Poster of ‘fake news’ on NLD official jailed 6 months on defamation charge

Phoe Htaung speaks to the media outside the courthouse in Naypyidaw on 7 April 2017. (Photo: DVB)

A man going by the name Phoe Htaung, who was on trial for using the official seal of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in a Facebook post that erroneously declared the resignation of senior party official Win Htein, was sentenced to six months in prison on Friday under the Telecommunications Law’s controversial article 66(d).

The convicted, also known as Aung Myint Htun, was charged after posting fabricated documents in which NLD Central Executive Committee member Win Htein was said to have submitted his resignation on health grounds, with the party having approved his departure.

“Since I was charged, I have explained. I’d just found it on Facebook,” Phoe Htaung said. “I am also a member of the party. I found that uncle U Win Htein requested to resign due to health, and was allowed to resign. I shared it after I found it.”

The Zabuthiri Township judge in the case, Phyu Phyu Thaw, ruled Friday that Phoe Htaung was guilty under article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law and sentenced him to six months in prison with hard labour.

Phoe Htaung has been detained for more than five months, since the initial lawsuit was brought in October, meaning he will likely be released within weeks on time served.

Similarly, fellow NLD member and leading researcher for the party Myo Yan Naung Thein — who was sued for defaming Burma’s commander-in-chief — was sentenced to six months in prison under article 66(d) by a court in Rangoon’s Kamayut Township on Friday.

To date, according to data collected by a group monitoring Telecommunications Law defamation prosecutions, there have been 61 cases filed under article 66(d) since its enactment in 2013, more than 50 of them under the NLD government.

The Telecommunications Law’s article 66(d) allows for a maximum three years’ imprisonment for anyone “extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening … by using any telecommunications network.”