A Kachin man on trial for posting a mocking image on Facebook was denied bail on Monday, despite his ailing health.
The defence team representing Patrick Kum Jaa Lee say the activist is suffering from asthma attacks in prison, where he has been held since 14 October. His arrest followed the posting of picture of a person in Kachin traditional clothing stepping on a photo of Burma’s Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.
Lt-Gen Min Htut of the Burmese army has brought the case against Patrick Kum Ja Lee, who if found guilty could be sentenced to three years in prison. The charge comes under Burma’s Telecommunications Law and is for “extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening to any person by using any telecommunications network”.
Outside the courthouse on Monday, defence lawyer El Kunyein Pang described the severity of his client’s health difficulties.
“He’s been having difficulty breathing and has only his inhaler to rely on. But according to his doctor, it can’t be used more than twice. Being an asthma sufferer, he frequently experiences a collapsing airway and has to use the inhaler to ease it, but that doesn’t seem to be helping now as he’s hacking a lot of mucus.”
The lawyer said the defence team are continuing their bid to secure bail for Patrick Kum Jaa Lee due to his deteriorating health and also pushing for proceedings to be expedited. The court has appointed the next hearing for 27 December.
“We’ll have to keep trying to get his bail granted. According to Article 497(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedures, an ailing defendant may be granted bail. But it is within the court’s discretion whether or not to grant it. We will continue our efforts,” El Kunyein Pang said.
Patrick Kum Jaa Lee’s October arrest came just days after police picked up 24-year-old internet user Chaw Sandi Htun, alleged to have posted an image linking the colour of new Burmese army uniforms to that of a traditional dress worn by Aung San Suu Kyi. Chaw Sandi Htun also remains locked up, having been refused bail.
Amnesty International called for the release of both activists in October.
“It is deeply worrying that the authorities now appear to be moving their repression into the digital sphere. In Myanmar, human rights defenders and political activists regularly rely on Facebook to share information and communicate,” said Laura Haigh, Amnesty International’s Burma Researcher.