A Myanmar court sentenced prominent filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi to one year in prison for defaming the military on Thursday, drawing swift condemnation from Human Rights Watch.
The New York-based NGO’s Deputy Asia Director, Phil Robertson, said in a statement that Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi should never have been arrested for expressing his views critical of Myanmar’s military in Facebook posts earlier this year.
“His case shows why Myanmar's civilian government must urgently use its overwhelming majority in the Parliament to revoke laws which clearly violate the right of free expression,” said Robertson.
“The treatment of Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi has been a travesty of justice, and these laws need to be stripped off the law books so no one else will have to suffer the way he has in this ordeal," Robertson added.
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who is the founder of Myanmar’s Human Rights, Human Dignity International Film Festival, was charged under Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code and Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act for writing the social media posts critical of the armed forces, specifically the political clout they are guaranteed by the country’s 2008 constitution written by a military junta.
Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law prohibits use of the telecom network to defame people and carries a jail sentence of up to two years. Section 505(a) criminalizes the circulation of statements and reports with the intent to cause officers or soldiers in the country’s armed forces to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in their duties.
Robertson said that the 2008 Constitution was an “affront to both human rights and the principles of democracy and should be amended,” agreeing with the filmmaker’s original posts.
He added that under the current constitution, “the Burmese people will continue to suffer from a military that systematically abuses rights with impunity and places itself above the law."
The filmmaker was denied bail in April 2019 and had been held in prison since then despite the fact that he suffers from liver cancer. Robertson argued that the court should have taken that into consideration.
"It's shocking the court paid so little heed to Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi's precarious health situation, and the very serious illness he's suffering from. Not only has the court been unjust in its judgement but it's also been cruel in ordering his pretrial incarceration."
There have been 53 cases filed under Section 66(d) and 31 cases filed under Section 505 in the past year, Myint Kyaw, joint secretary of the Myanmar Press Council, told RFA in early February.
Myanmar journalists and domestic and international rights groups have called on the civilian government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi to repeal vaguely worded laws such as Section 66(d), which have increasingly been used by those in power, including the military, during the current administration to silence their critics.
Reported by Thant Zin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Mying Maung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.