A court in Myanmar’s southern Tanintharyi region has granted bail to high court lawyer U Kyi Myint and poet Saw Wai in a controversial defamation case filed by a military officer.
The court granted U Kyi Myint, 75, and U Saw Wai, 60, bail after they were able to demonstrate they were both suffering from heart conditions, online news portal The Irrawaddy reports. The age of the men also played a part in the court’s decision.
”As aging men, we are happy that we were granted bail. But I am sorry for those students, farmers and laborers sued under Section 505 who have not been granted bail. Section 505 should be amended to allow for bail,” The Irrawaddy cited U Kyi Myint as saying.
Bail was set at 10 million kyats ($U.S. 6,865) each.
In October 2019, Lieutenant Colonel Zaw Zaw filed charges against the two men, claiming they had violated Section 505(a) of the penal code, which prohibits the publication or circulation of any statement, rumor, or report with the intent to cause soldiers to mutiny or disregard their duty, the Myanmar Times reports.
The officer alleges the two men had damaged the military’s reputation in speeches they had made in April of that year.
The court accepted the lawsuit in December 2019. If convicted, U Kyi Myint and U Saw Wai face up to two years in prison.
The next hearing for the case is set for Feb. 17.
The exact nature of Saw Wai’s comments are unclear. In November 2019, however, U Kyi Myint told The Irrawaddy he had merely mentioned amendments to the Myanmar constitution during his April speech, but had not said anything that defamed the military.
Another man accused of calling the Myanmar constitution undemocratic, Nay Myo Zin, is currently serving a 1-year prison term under the same charge.
The Myanmar Press Council has called on top military brass to have the charges dropped.
In January, the free speech advocacy group Athan said that military officers had filed 47 legal cases since Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy came to power in March 2016, Radio Free Asia (RFA)’s Myanmar service reports.
Seven of those cases were filed under seven under Section 505(b).
“In most of the cases, the accused are activists,” Athan researcher Ye Wai Phyo Aung told RFA. “The military’s lawsuits mostly try to limit the free speech.”
Ethnic cleaning against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State in 2017 and subsequent international condemnation has lead to a “political crisis,” which has mad the military “ultra-sensitive” to criticism, Ye Wai Phyo Aung said.