The decision to put Myanmar filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi on trial for posts on his personal Facebook account that criticized Myanmar’s military is an unacceptable attack on free expression, PEN America said in a statement today.
“The fact that Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi has been targeted for speaking his mind online demonstrates the Myanmar government’s continued disregard for the right to free expression,” said Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “This arrest is just one piece of a broader, persistent pattern of cracking down on any form of dissent in Myanmar, and it is clearly intended to send a clear message to other artists, journalists, and human rights activists: critique this administration, and especially the military, at your peril. We call for Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi to be released immediately and unconditionally, and for the Myanmar government to cease its unacceptable attacks on free expression.”
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who has been in pre-trial detention since April 12, was charged under Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code and Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act for writing Facebook posts critical of the armed forces and the special guarantees they have under the country’s 2008 constitution written by a military government. Although he had previously published critical posts on his social media channels, advocates for his release believe that it was calling out individual army officers that led to his detention in Insein Prison in Yangon.
He has been repeatedly denied requests for bail, despite serious health concerns due to liver cancer. Last Thursday, he was officially charged with violating Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code and Section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Act, two restrictive laws often used to thwart freedom of expression.
A prominent film director who founded and directs the Myanmar Human Rights Human Dignity Film Festival, he has participated in international film festivals and dedicated himself to helping fellow Myanmar filmmakers participate in festivals abroad. In 2010, he won best documentary at the ASEAN event for The Floating Tomatoes, a short film on the Intha people.
The charges against Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi come at a time of widespread prosecutions against free expression in Myanmar. Despite the recent release of Reuters journalists and 2018 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honourees Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, Section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law and the Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code continues to provide legislative cover for criminal prosecutions of individuals for peaceful communications online. Dozens of journalists and prominent artists such as the members of the Myanmar thangyat troupe–a satirical poetry group–Daung Doh Myo Sat (Peacock Generation) and poet Saung Kha have been charged with online defamation under these intentionally vague provisions.