Defamation / Reputation
Johnson v. Steele
Closed Contracts Expression
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Htin Lin Oo is a writer and former information office of the National League for Democracy (NLD). He was sentenced to two years imprisonment and hard labor on June 2, 2015 by the Chaung-U Township Court for a speech he made on October 23, 2014 which was considered by the Court to intentionally defame Buddhism. He was released from Monywa Prison due to Presidental amnesty on April 17, 2016 along with other 83 prisoners.
Global FoE could not identify official legal and government records on the case and information on the case was derived from secondary sources. Global FoE notes that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding legal matters will be updated as an official source becomes available.
Htin Lin Oo gave a speech at a literary event in Chaung-U Township, Sagaing Region in northern Myanmar on October 23, 2014. The audiences were around 500 people. His speech criticized the use of Buddhism to promote discrimination and prejudice. The length of the speech was two hours of which a 10 minute video clip was recorded and shared on social media. This 10 minute video clip has caused outrage towards the Patriotic Buddhist Monks Union Statement.
Part of the speech stated that, “Buddha is not Burmese, not Shan, not Karen – so if you want to be an extreme nationalist and if you love to maintain your race that much, don’t believe in Buddhism.”
Htin Lin Oo was later arrested on December 4, 2014 after a complaint was filed against him by a township official, Tun Khaing, on November 20, 2014. According to Tun Khaing, it was the Township Sangha Nayaka committee that assigned the township management committee to take a legal action. Htin Lin Oo was subsequently removed from his position at the NLD as information officer after the criminal charges were filed.
He was charged for committing offenses under the Article 295 (a) and 298 of the Penal Code. Article 295 (a) states that “[w]hoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of [persons dent in the Union] by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine or with both.” 
Furthermore, Article 298 prescribes that, “[w]hoever, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture in the sight of that person or places any object in the sight of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may be extend to one year, or with fine or with both.” 
After the arrest, Htin Lin Oo was repeatedly denied bail. According to his lawyer, the court said that he could apply for bail but the bail application was always rejected after the submission.
Htin Lin Oo spent six months behind bars before the Chaung-U Township Court on June 2, 2015 found him guilty of the charge under the Article 295 (a). He was sentenced to two years imprisonment and hard labor. The lesser charge under the Article 298 was dismissed by the court due to insufficient evidence.
Htin Lin Oo said that the 10 minutes video clip led to people misinterpreting his intent. His lawyer, Thein Than Oo, said the Htin Lin Oo criticized those Buddhist monks who had given hate speeches. The lawyer added “[h]is intention was to expose things that are bad for Buddhism, like extremism and racism” and “his actual intention was to ask for more tolerance.” Htin Lin Oo himself said “[w]hat I said was for love and peace between different communities with different faiths.” He actually went to pay respect to Buddhist monks on January 15. According to him, he “paid respect to the monks because the monks may feel uneasy about what I’ve said. I really didn’t want to hurt them as I am a Buddhist. I insist that I said nothing wrong.” The monks in Chuang-U later accepted his apology, but Tun Khaing said that he had no intention to withdraw the charges. He said that the apology is not relevant to the prosecution and the case actually had concerned all monks and Buddhists. Htin Lin Oo was released on April 17, 2016 from Monywa Prison in Myanmar’s Sagaing Region after receiving Presidential amnesty.
Judge Lin Min Tun said that Htin Lin Oo’s speech intentionally defamed the entire Buddhist religion even though it had not been directed at a section of the clergy, thus, Htin Lin Oo received a sentence of two years imprisonment with hard labor.
Buddhism is a sensitive issue in Myanmar. The country has suffered from conflicts between religions for years, especially between the Buddhist majority and the minority Muslims. The case of Htin Lin Oo is the second prominent religious offense that have occurred in 2015 after Philip Blackwood, a New Zealander and his two Burmese business partners of the Rangoon’s V Gastro Bar, had been sentenced to two and a half years in prison with hard labor in March, 2015. The three men were found guilty for the restaurant’s promotional advertisement that had the Buddha wearing headphones against a psychedelic background. Article 295 (a) was one of the articles under which the convictions were justified.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case contracts expression. Htin Lin Oo’s freedom of expression was violated in this case because his words were considered defamatory towards the entire Buddhist religion even though he claimed that he had no intention to do so. He only wanted the discrimination against minorities under the name of the religion to stop. Instead, he has been sentenced to imprisonment because of his expression.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
In Myanmar, freedom of speech is not guaranteed by the national law. However, there are two provisions in the Constiution (Article 354 and 365) that relate to the right to freedom of expression but it does not guarantee it. The details of both articles can be seen as followings;
(1) Article 354 which states that every citizen shall be at liberty in the exercise of the following rights, if not contrary to the laws, enacted for Union security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility or public order and morality: (a) to express and publish freely their convictions and opinions; (b) to assemble peacefully without arms and holding procession; (c) to form associations and organizations; (d) to develop their language, literature, culture they cherish, religion they profess, and customs without prejudice to the relations between one national race and another or among national races and to other faiths.
(2) Article 365 states that every citizen shall, in accord with the law, have the right to freely develop literature, culture, arts, customs and traditions they cherish. In the process, they shall avoid any act detrimental to national solidarity. Moreover, any particular action which might adversely affect the interests of one or several other national races shall be taken only after coordinating with and obtaining the settlement of those affected.
The country is also not part of any of the international human rights laws such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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