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Burmese parliament to investigate blogger for critical article

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Myanmar's Hluttaw (Parliament) approved on 8 February 2013 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 of and take action in regards to a blogger who wrote, under the pseudonym Dr Sate Phwar, an article on 17 January 2013 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 the Kamaryut Constituency accusing the writer of dishonoring the dignity of Parliament, its members, and its 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 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 the 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; and 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 were intended to gain more control over the judiciary and were 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 the addition of a new constitutional clause stating, "Any decision by Parliament should be adopted no matter what the Constitution says".

Later, an apology was posted on 20 January for 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 as the government's abolishing of a draconian law on public speeches, previously used to silence critics.

Members of the local blogging community in Myanmar have said that the parliament is “wasting its time” by focusing on such minor issues as the article in question.

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 over the parliament's use of its power to go after someone who expressed his opinion online, saying the move "sends a strong warning to the online community that the government will not tolerate any criticism."

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