The charges were filed by the military on 17 May in Yangon, after the newspaper published a satirical column regarding a military propaganda film aired on Armed Forces Day. The newspaper had previously apologised for any assumed offence from the column.
Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications law is frequently used by the military and others to repress free speech online in Myanmar, and charges under the law have seen a worrying increase over the past year. More than 66 cases have been brought against journalists, activists and social media users under the law, often by the military, and many of these since the NLD government took office.
Last year several activists were sentenced to six month prison terms for satirical Facebook posts deemed insulting to the military. In the week following the detention of the Voice journalists, the military filed more charges under Article 66(d) against Tun Tun Oo, leader of the Human Rights Activists Association, in Pathein, Irrawaddy Division, for livestreaming a student production of a play, which the military deemed defamatory.
The provision has become a go-to for the silencing of journalists and activists who are critical of Myanmar’s powerful military, and while discussions are reported to be under way to amend the law, recent recommendations by the Myanmar Attorney General’s Office to make Article 66(d) a bailable offence do not go far enough in addressing the flaws in the legislation.
ARTICLE 19’s recent analysis of the law in its current form found it to be in desperate need of repeal or major reform, and called for Article 66(d) to be stricken in its entirety. Article 66(d) criminalises “extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening any person by using any Telecommunications Network”. The provision is extremely broad and vulnerable to abuse, and as such violates international standards on freedom of expression.
“If the NLD government is serious about safeguarding the rule of law in Myanmar, they must prioritise the repeal of Article 66(d), which clearly violates the right to freedom of expression online and offline. The repeated use of the provision to attack journalists and human rights defenders clearly shows the law has no place in a democratic Myanmar”, said David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmes at ARTICLE 19.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Myanmar government to drop all current charges under Article 66(d), including those against the Voice Daily journalists and Tun Tun Oo, release all those currently serving sentences or detained under the provision, and to repeal and replace the provision to bring it into line with international standards on freedom of expression. We also urge the government to ratify international treaties including the ICCPR, to safeguard the right to free expression for all in the country.