Myanmar: briefing paper on Criminal Defamation Laws

Myanmar’s Parliament must abolish or extensively amend its criminal defamation laws to ensure the protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said the ICJ today.

Criminal defamation laws in Myanmar impose harsh sanctions, such as imprisonment, to punish free expression.

The prospect of arrests, detentions, criminal trials and prison time could chill the exercise of free expression of opinions and exchange of information.

The ICJ, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (which monitors and supervises States’ compliance with their international human rights obligations), the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and other international human rights authorities and an increasing number of governments consider that criminal defamation laws should be abolished, as they are incompatible with the right to freedom of expression and opinion.

Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution provides for the protection of freedom of expression but sets out broad and ambiguous restrictions that limit the enjoyment of these rights.

In addition, the judiciary of Myanmar currently struggles to adjudicate such criminal defamation cases with impartiality and competence.

The result is that enforcement of the defamation laws can result in violations of a number of international laws and standards protecting human rights, and also could have an overall chilling effect on the freedom of opinion and expression in the country.

Just last month, three people faced criminal defamation charges and were detained pending trial for posting material on Facebook that allegedly defame either the Myanmar army or a political leader.

  • •Kachin activist Patrick Kum Jaa Lee was arrested in Yangon for allegedly posting a Facebook post showing someone stepping on a photo of an army Commander-in-Chief Senior General;
  • Chaw Sandi Tun was arrested for a Facebook post pointing out that an army official was wearing clothes of a similar colour to those of then opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi; and
  • Maung Saungkha was arrested for allegedly posting a poem on Facebook he had written about having a tattoo of the President on his penis. His next hearing at Shwepyithar Township has been scheduled for tomorrow.

The ICJ is monitoring some of these trials to assess their compliance with international laws and standards. In one such trial, involving Patrick Kum Jaa Lee, the accused has been denied bail for the fifth time this week despite his ailing health.

The laws used to charge and detain the accused are the Electronic Transaction Law, specifically under provision 34(d), the Myanmar Telecommunications Law, specifically under provision 66(d), and Article 500 of the Penal Code.

Download the full paper here:

Myanmar-Criminal Defamation Laws-Advocacy-Position paper-2015-ENG (in PDF)

Myanmar-Criminal Defamation Laws-Advocacy-Position paper-2015-BUR (Burmese version, in PDF)



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