Responding to the decision by the Insein Township Court to sentence filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi to one year in prison on charges of undermining the military, Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Director for East and South East Asia, said:
“Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi is a respected filmmaker who has already spent more than four months in detention for criticizing Myanmar’s military on social media. The guilty verdict handed down today is an appalling indictment of the state of freedom of expression in Myanmar, where a Facebook post can lead to time in prison.
“This punishment is especially cruel because Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi suffers from serious health problems, including liver cancer, and needs specialist treatment. He should not be facing years in prison simply for peacefully expressing his opinion. His conviction is a travesty of justice which will instill fear and deter others from speaking out against the military.
“Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi is a Prisoner of Conscience, his conviction must be quashed, and he must be released immediately and unconditionally.
“The Myanmar authorities must immediately repeal and amend all oppressive laws used to target peaceful activists and critics and stop politically motivated arrests and prosecutions of human rights defenders.”
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi is a prominent filmmaker and founder of the Human Dignity Film Institute (HDFI) and the Human Rights, Human Dignity International Film Festival in Myanmar. He was arrested on April 12, 2019 after a Myanmar military official accused him of defamation for a series of Facebook posts critical of the military-drafted 2008 Constitution and the military’s role in politics.
He was initially accused of “online defamation” under Section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunication Act. Several days later, the same officer who had lodged the initial proceedings filed a second complaint under Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, which prohibits the circulation of statements or reports which could cause a solider or other member of the Myanmar military to “mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty.” He was formally charged under section 505(a) of the Penal Code on August 1, 2019. The charge carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison. The complaint under Section 66(d) – which also carries a maximum of two years in prison – remains pending.
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi has been detained in Yangon’s Insein prison for more than four months since his arrest. He has been denied bail, despite battling liver cancer and undergoing a major operation earlier this year.
The Myanmar authorities continue to arbitrarily arrest, detain and prosecute activists and human rights defenders simply for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. Amnesty International continues to call for the abrogation of a number of legal provisions which arbitrarily restrict as well as criminalize the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, including Section 505 of the Penal Code and Section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Act.