THE HLUTTAW or Parliament of supposedly democratizing Myanmar recently voted to investigate a blogger for writing an article that allegedly “dishonored” the legislators.
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), a network of independent media organizations in the region, in an alert report said that the lawmakers created a 17-member bicameral commission to identify and take action on the blogger.
The article focused on efforts by the lawmakers to “amend the Constitutional Tribunal Law, saying that such moves was intended to gain more control over the judiciary and was thus in breach of the 2008 Constitution,” SEAPA said.
The blogger who used the name Dr Sate Phwar wrote: “The very people who swore to safeguard the constitution are now violating it intentionally.”
Gayathry Venkiteswaran, SEAPA executive director, said the lawmakers’ move “sends a strong warning to the online community that government will not tolerate any criticism.”
The full text of the SEAPA report follows:
MYANMAR’s Hluttaw (Parliament) approved on 8 February a proposal to investigate a blogger for writing a critical article that “dishonored” the legislature.
A 17-member bicameral commission was formed to determine the identity and take action on a blogger who wrote under the pseudonym “Dr Sate Phwar”, who wrote a 17 January 2013 article entitled “Is the Hluttaw (Parliament) above the law?”.
The Hluttaw’s move stems from a 17 January proposal by lower house representative Dr Soe Yin of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) from Kamaryut Constituency accusing the writer of dishonoring the dignity of Parliament, its members and performance, which could mislead the public and the international community.
His motion was passed on the same day by a 347 to 157 vote in favor of the investigation, with 42 abstentions. A commission was formed to be headed by headed by U Mya Nyein, deputy speaker of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Assembly of the Union, the bicameral parliament) and U Nanda Kyaw Swa, deputy speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives), and 15 other members from both houses. .
According to state-run Burmese language Kyaymon (The Mirror) newspaper, the Commission will investigate: whether the article defames the Parliament and its members; whether the facts contained can mislead the public; whether it violated the Electronic Transactions Law governing facsimile, email, internet, intranet and similar communication technologies; or whether Sate Phwar’s exercise of freedom of speech violates other laws related to national security, rule of law, peace and morality or if he was within his rights as a law abiding citizen.
The Commission is also given authority to give orders and consult with concerned government units to determine the identity of “Dr Sate Phwar”.
The article, which was published on Dr Sate Phwar’s blog Voice of Myanmar, criticizes recent attempts by the Parliament to amend the Constitutional Tribunal Law, saying that such moves was intended to gain more control over the judiciary and was thus in breach of the 2008 Constitution.
“The very people who swore to safeguard the constitution are now violating it intentionally,” Dr Sate Phwar wrote in the article.
He mocked the parliament by suggesting adding a new constitutional clause which says, “Any decision by the Parliament should be adopted no matter what the Constitution says.”
Later, an apology was posted on 20 January for the said article.
Some articles in the blog had been published by the Smart News Journal of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. However, the blogger’s identity is not widely known.
According to the Democratic Voice of Burma, the Parliament’s decision risks denting Burma’s progress on media freedom, noting that the decision comes within the same week that the government abolished a draconian law on public speeches, previously used to silence critics.
Members of local blogging community in Myanmar have said that the Parliament is “wasting its time” by focusing on such minor issues as this article.
They added that Dr Sate Phwar was acting within his right to freedom of expression, and should not be charged.
A prominent blogger, Nay Phone Latt, who also heads the Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO), further cautioned against the use of the Electronic Transactions Law, which continues to threaten the freedom of netizens in the country.
SEAPA executive director Gayathry Venkiteswaran expressed concern with the use of the power of the Parliament to go after someone who expressed his opinion online, saying the move “sends a strong warning to the online community that government will not tolerate any criticism.”