A man accused of ridiculing Burma’s military chief and former president on social media was sentenced to two years in prison by a court in Rangoon’s Mayangone Township on Friday.
Hla Phone, who was accused of posting insulting images and comments under the Facebook user name Kyatphagyi (“The Rooster”), was found guilty of two counts of violating Article 66(d) of Burma’s 2013 Telecommunications Law, sedition under Article 505(b) of the Penal Code and another offense under Article 16 of the Union Flag Law.
His lawyer Robert San Aung said he was sentenced to a total of 24 months in prison.
Hla Phone has been in custody without bail since he was arrested nine months ago for posting a digitally altered image on his Facebook account showing the military chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, wearing a traditional female skirt on his head.
Another picture showed a caricature of former president and retired general Thein Sein with the words “we are murderers”, and a third showed the national flag imprinted on a shoe.
The Mayangone Township court ordered the time he already spent in custody be commuted for two of the four charges. He is to spend more than one year in prison.
Robert San Aung said he would appeal the court’s decision.
Hla Phone, who has denied that he is Facebook user Kyatphagyi, said his sentencing was unfair.
The Telecommunications Law, which human rights lawyers and activists have called on the new government to amend or repeal the law saying it stifles free speech, has more recently been used against critics of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).
On Friday, the CEO and chief editor of Eleven Media Group turned themselves in to police to face charges under the law for accusing the NLD’s Rangoon Division Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein of corruption.
In July, a local coordinator for the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in Pegu Division was charged under the law for broadcasting a profanity-laced tirade against Burmese President Htin Kyaw and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi over a loudspeaker using a video file on his phone.
And in November of last year, another USDP member was arrested for posting a defamatory image of Suu Kyi on social media during the election campaign period.
Earlier this month, it was also used against a senior NLD official for posting comments critical of the military’s handling of recent violence in Arakan State.