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Members of Burma’s Upper House of Parliament sat in session yesterday to debate potential changes to the controversial Telecommunications Act, which critics have slammed as a government and military tool used to crush dissent and silence the media.
Among the proposed amendments is a provision that would allow bail to be granted to those arrested under the Telecommunications Act — more commonly known by its most notorious punitive clause, article 66(d). Several activists and journalists have been detained under the Act, which includes punishments for “online defamation,” a wide-ranging offence that can include “sharing” a Facebook post deemed insulting.
Members of the Burmese media have been particular targets of lawsuits under article 66(d); in May, the editor and a columnist for The Voice newspaper were arrested after publishing a satirical piece that allegedly insulted the military.
“Filing lawsuits against and detaining civilians and journalists as a reason to protect the Tatmadaw [Burmese military] and political leaders from personal attacks and defamation is not in line with international standards of democracy,” said Magwe MP Tin Aung Tun. “Using article 66[d] to sue and detain civilians and journalists poses a barrier for them to freely criticise and offer suggestions to the authorities.
“It could potentially deter individuals from casting a spotlight on corruption, unfairness and the impotence of the authorities,” he added. “As a result, it hampers the development of our democratic culture in Myanmar.”
However, at least one military representative in Naypyidaw disagreed with the move to amend the law.
Addressing the Upper House yesterday, Maj. Thet Min said, “Amending the law to allow bail for offences under article 65, article 66[a], [b] and [d] tends to suggest that the legislative branch is exerting influence over the judiciary. For that reason, I believe we need to review these proposed amendments.”
The speaker of the house announced that the debate would be continued.