Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights strongly condemns the arrest and continued detention of Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, founder of the Human Dignity Film Institute, which puts on the annual Human Rights/Human Dignity International Film Festival in Myanmar and produces documentaries and films on human rights issues. Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi was originally arrested on April 12 after he posted statements critical of the Myanmar military and previous military governments on Facebook, and has since been denied bail. His next hearing is scheduled for May 23. The arrest, underlying charges, and continued imprisonment violate Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi’s right to freedom of expression and his right to be free from arbitrary detention. He should be released immediately and all charges against him should be dropped.
On April 12, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi was arrested after making a series of Facebook posts from late-February to mid-March that criticized the military-drafted 2008 Constitution as undemocratic, as well as the fact that it reserved twenty-five percent of parliamentary seats for the military. He also referred to Than Shwe, the former military dictator of Myanmar, as a “thief.” On March 29, Lieutenant-Colonel Lin Htun filed a defamation case against Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law. Days later, the same military official filed an additional case for the same posts under Section 505(a) of the Myanmar Penal Code. Cases filed under this article are not eligible for bail.
“Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi’s arrest and continued detention are a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Myanmar cannot silence critics by throwing them in jail, and that’s especially true when—as here—the statements are advocating for a more democratic Myanmar based on human rights and the rule of law. All the charges should be dropped and Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi should be released immediately.”
Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law provides up to two years in prison for a person convicted of defaming another person or entity through a telecommunications network. While originally presented as a law aimed at regulating the telecommunications sector, Section 66(d) is regularly used by government officials to criminalize peaceful expression on Facebook and other digital platforms. This includes speech—as in the case of Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi—which is protected under international law, such as opinion, speech that some may find offensive, or speech directed at a public figure.
Section 505 of the Myanmar Penal Code falls under the chapter that criminalizes “Intimidation, Insult, and Annoyance.” The section provides for up to two years in prison for “Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumor or report, (a) with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, any officer, soldier, sailor or airman, in the Army, Navy or Air Force, to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such…”
Although the charges under Section 505 of the penal code are not eligible for bail, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi’s lawyer has argued for a humanitarian release. Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi’s health is in a fragile state; he is recovering from an operation to treat liver cancer performed just three months ago, in which half his liver was removed. According to his lawyer, Robert Sann Aung, he is also suffering from heart and kidney diseases. Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi fainted during a hearing on April 25, but the judge continued to deny bail.
“Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi’s arrest and continued detention are yet another example of the concerning crackdown on freedom of expression and journalism taking place today in Myanmar,” said David McKean, Asia Program Officer for Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Increasingly, military and government officials are using laws to imprison critics and silence dissent. The Myanmar Assembly of the Union should reform the Telecommunications Law, the Penal Code, and other problematic laws to conform to international standards on freedom of expression, and all charges against Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi and others engaging in peaceful expression should be dismissed.”