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The Case of Patrick Kum Jaa Lee

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Electronic / Internet-based Communication
  • Date of Decision
    January 22, 2016
  • Outcome
    Imprisonment
  • Case Number
    N/A
  • Region & Country
    Myanmar, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Defamation / Reputation
  • Tags
    Public Officials, Political expression

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

On October 14, 2015, Burmese activist Patrick Kum Jaa Lee was arrested without warrant for mocking the country’s commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Min Aung Hlaing, on Facebook. On January 22, 2016, the Court found Patrick guilty of “online defamation” and sentenced him to six months in prison. Prior to his arrest and conviction,  Chaw Sandi Tun, a young Burmese woman, was also detained for an online post  mocking the military. He was released on April 1, 2016 after serving his sentence. 

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal and government records on the case and that the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.


Facts

A 43-year old social worker and activist, Patrick Kum Jaa Lee, was arrested on October 14, 2015 for allegedly sharing a picture of an unidentified individual stepping on a photo of Myanmar’s military chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, on Facebook with the caption: “If you share this picture, action will be taken against you. Please share that sharing such a picture is dangerous.” The warrantless arrest then led to the seizure of his phone and computer and eventually the post was removed from Facebook.

Patrick was charged under Section 66(d) of 2013 Telecommunication Law, which imposes a maximum three-year sentence or a fine for “[e]xtorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening to any person by using any [t]elecommunications [n]etwork.” According to Human Rights Watch, Patrick’s prosecution is believed to be the first under the Telecommunication Law, which was primarily enacted to expand and enhance mobile phone and Internet access across Myanmar after years of censorship.

During his pretrial detention, Patrick’s defense lawyer purportedly made several attempts to secure his bail due to his deteriorating health conditions and also sought to dismiss the charges for violation of the right to freedom of expression. The lawyer argued that “[t]he charges ignore citizens’ constitutional rights and the universal declaration of human rights.” However, his bail was repeatedly denied and the plea for dismissal was not successful. The defense also unsuccessfully argued that the criminal charges against Patrick were without any lawful grounds because at the time of his arrest, the necessary enabling by-laws of the Telecommunication Law had not been enacted by the Parliament.


Decision Overview

On January 22, 2016, Judge U Sein Kyi of the Hlaing Township Court found Patrick guilty of “online defamation” for allegedly mocking Myanmar’s army chief. The judge viewed the Facebook photo to be “against the cultural and customary context” of Myanmar. The government brought a criminal defamation charge against him pursuant to Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, which imposes a prison sentence, not exceeding three years, or a fine for “[e]xtorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening to any person by using any [t]elecommunications [n]etwork.”

Following the ruling, Patrick told reporters that “[t]he [C]ourt reached the expected verdict, despite the lack of by-laws. There is huge invisible pressure on the judge . . . It’s like asking a traditional physician to read an EEG machine.” Given his pretrial detention being counted toward his sentence, he was released on April 1, 2016.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

This decision and the the application of underlining law, Section 66(d) of 2013 Telecommunication Law, creates a chilling effect on freedom of expression by criminalizing certain behavior that is found to “against the cultural and customary context” of Myanmar in terms of speech and social media.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Myan., The Telecommunications Law, art. 66 (d)

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents

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