A Myanmar court has sentenced a woman to nine months in prison at hard labor because she claimed that she and her family were pressured to vote for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party in the November 8, 2020 general election, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
On September 23, Thinzar Than Min, 25, from Pakokku in Magway Region, posted on Facebook that she would vote for the incumbent National League for Democracy (NLD) party despite pressure from the military, where her father is employed as a medical assistant.
“The Myanmar authorities should be investigating Thinzar Than Min’s allegations of voter intimidation, not prosecuting her for raising them,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Asia legal advisor at Human Rights Watch. “They should immediately and unconditionally quash the conviction against her and drop all pending charges.”
The local media outlet Myanmar Now reported that a military officer summoned Thinzar Than Min on September 24, the day after she posted her remarks. Two officers from Infantry Regiment 101 and Infantry Battalion 235 brought charges against her for alleged online defamation, a criminal offense under section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, and for publishing “incorrect information with dishonesty” in violation of section 68(a) of that law.
On December 4, a court in Pakokku convicted Thinzar Than Min of “statements conducing to public mischief” in violation of section 505(a) of the Penal Code. She still faces potential charges under sections 66(d) and 68(a) of the Telecommunications Law.
Section 505(a) of the Penal Code make it a crime to publish or circulate any “statement, rumor or report … 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.”
The section has frequently been used to prosecute critics of the military for exercising their right to free expression protected by international human rights law. The provision has recently been used against dozens of students who held peaceful protests against government censorship, military abuses, and internet restrictions in parts of Rakhine and Chin States in western Myanmar.
Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law states that “anyone found guilty of extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening any person by using a telecommunications network” faces up to two years in prison and a fine. The law has been routinely used to prosecute and silence critics of the Myanmar authorities.
Myanmar’s recent election lacked many internationally recognized elements for a free and fair election. International standards include the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and movement; participation by candidates and voters in an environment free from violence, threats, and intimidation; universal and equal suffrage; the right to run for office; the right to vote and cast a secret ballot; and freedom from discrimination.
“The prosecution of Thinzar Than Min for alleging voter intimidation is just the latest example of the use of criminal laws to silence criticism in Myanmar,” Lakhdhir said. “Myanmar’s parliament should finally act to repeal the many repressive laws used against critical speech, and ensure there is a thorough and independent investigation into allegations of voter intimidation.”