Myanmar Activist Jailed For 'Ridiculing' Army
Still in command
NEW DELHI: As Myanmar made news for transitioning to a democracy, with the elections this year in the country being touted as the most decisive move away from decades of military rule, a court in the country this week jailed a woman for six months for a Facebook post "ridiculing" the country's army chief and the color of a new uniform.
Chaw Sandi Tun, a member of Aung San Suu Kyi's election-winning National League for Democracy (NLD) party, was found guilty by the Ma-ubin Township Court in Ayeyawady Region, lawyer Robert San Aung told Reuters. She was sentenced under the telecommunications law, enacted in 2013 as part of an opening up of the telecoms sector.
"My daughter was sentenced to 6 months' imprisonment at Ma U Bin township court this morning under Section 66(d) of the telecoms law. We will appeal as we are not satisfied," her mother Ei San told the Agence France-Presse.
Her lawyer confirmed the sentence but said his client denied making the post. "She said her Facebook account had been hacked several times and that she didn't post that post," Robert San Aung told AFP.
The telecommunications law contains within it a broadly worded clause that prohibits use of the telecoms network to "extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb, inappropriately influence or intimidate".
The NLD party member’s post compared the light green new uniform for army officers with that of a "longyi" -- a traditional Myanmar outfit worn by women in the country, including Aung Saan Suu Kyi. "If you love mother that much, why don't you wrap mother's longyi on your head?" the post said.
Chaw Sandi Tun was arrested in October -- the latest in a line of crackdowns on free speech in the country. The same month, Patrick Kum Jaa Lee, an NGO worker was arrested, also for a Facebook post mocking the army. Lee faces up to three years in jail if found guilty.
In February a freelance photojournalist was arrested for uploading a satirical post on Facebook mocking the military. In October 2014, another freelance journalist was shot dead by the army, with two soldiers being acquitted in the journalist’s murder.
Myanmar had been ruled by a quasi civilian government since 2011 following years of military rule, with 2015 being the year that the civilian National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won a victory.
The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), best described as a semi-civilian government, was handed over power from Myanmar’s military in 2011, after decades of military rule.
This election was especially important given the fact that even after the formal end of military rule in Myanmar, the army continues to hold sway in politics. 25 percent of the seats in Hluttaw are reserved for the army, which also holds a veto charge.
The NLD needed a massive victory to be able to stop an anti-NLD coalition, which would have needed only a third of the elected seats to form the government given that quarter of the seats are reserved for the army. As of Tuesday morning, the NLD is set to not only defeat the ruling party and any anti-NLD coalition, but trounce them entirely.
Despite the result categorically in favour of Suu Kyi, challenges remain. For one, the constitution stipulates that no one with foreign children can be President, effectively ruling out Suu Kyi who has two. Suu Kyi has said that a civilian from the party will be up for the post shall the NLD win, although she has indicated she will lead the government from Parliament.
More significantly, although the elected President and government are important, key security ministries (defence, home affairs and border affairs) are selected by the head of the army, not the president, and there can be no change to the constitution without military approval.
Other problems with the elections included woefully inadequate election campaign voter lists that were published, with dead people listed and many alive not included. Most significantly, as fighting continues across large parts of Myanmar, with President Thein Sein’s landmark ceasefire falling short of expectations, large numbers of the country’s ethnically diverse population was unable to vote.
Further, minorities like the Rohingya Muslims are not included in the ballot, as the Myanmar government continues denying the Rohingya citizenship and other basic rights. Even Aung Saan Suu Kyi and her NLD party, which have positioned themselves as the champions of democratic and human rights, have been dismally silent on the Rohingya issue, indicating that for the country’s most vulnerable minority, a change in government isn’t going to change much in their lives.
And as indicated by the recent court order, legal hurdles to a democratic system are going to be a major challenge.