Man Who Criticized MP Gets Two Years with Hard Labor

The sentence was the harshest ever handed out under Burma’s controversial Telecommunications Law.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

A man who posted comments critical of Zaw Zaw Htoo, the MP for Mon State’s Paung Township, on Facebook was sentenced to two years in prison with hard labor on Monday under Section 66(d) of Burma’s controversial Telecommunications Law.

Aung San Oo, a resident of Kawt Sai Ward in Mottama, was found guilty of using electronic media to defame the politician, who he called an “alcoholic with no standards and a true fool.” He said he would appeal the decision.

“I have been bullied by an elected representative. This law doesn’t protect the people, but is only used for intimidation,” said Aung San Oo, speaking to NMG after the Paung Township court handed down its ruling.

According to the freedom-of-speech advocacy group Athan, the sentence was the harshest ever given under the draconian Telecommunications Law since it was first enacted in 2013.

“This is the most severe punishment possible for this kind of case. Most previous cases resulted in sentences of three to nine months. This is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone get two years in prison,” Athan’s executive director, Maung Soung Kha, told NMG.

Last September, another man, Aung Ko Ko Win, received a one-year sentence with hard labor for criticizing Mon state’s chief minister, Dr. Aye Zan.

“[Aung San Oo] criticized a government official. He was merely exercising his freedom of speech. They should not prosecute him for something like this. When civilians go to prison for criticizing the government or the authorities, it is a violation of their basic rights,” said Maung Soung Kha.

Zaw Zaw Htoo, who previously said that he decided to press charges against Aung San Oo because he had “deliberately attacked me and damaged my good reputation,” declined to comment on the sentence.

“Regarding this sentence, personally, I have nothing to say,” he said when contacted by NMG.

According to a report released by Athan on June 23, the law has been used 200 times in the past six years, in many cases as a means of silencing critics of the government or individual politicians.

Of these, only 11 cases were prosecuted under the previous quasi-civilian administration of former President Thein Sein. All the rest have occurred since the ruling National League for Democracy government assumed power three years ago.

A total of 264 people have been charged under the law so far, the report said.