Myanmar court convicts Maung Saungkha for protesting internet shutdowns; all charges must be rescinded

Access Now calls on Myanmar authorities to immediately rescind charges against poet and activist Maung Saungkha. 

Reports have come out of Yangon today that Maung Saungkha was found guilty of violating Section 4 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, which requires people give advanced notice to hold a protest. His crime? Hanging a banner asking “Is the internet being shut down to hide war crimes and killing people?” from an overpass in downtown Yangon on June 21. This marked the one-year anniversary of internet shutdowns in several townships in the Rakhine and Chin states, one of the longest running internet shutdowns in the world. 

The international community has repeatedly raised concerns around the continuing internet shutdown and its impact on rights of communities, and the furtherance of targeted violence. The UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar has called upon government authorities to rescind the decision and remove the ban on mobile internet services. Despite these calls internationally, and from many stakeholders in the country, the Myanmar government this June extended the restrictions on internet services in these areas until at least October.

“Prosecuting Maung Saungkha for speaking out against the government-ordered shutdown in Rakhine and Chin states is unconstitutional, and a flagrant violation of his fundamental rights enshrined in international frameworks,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “The government of Myanmar must stop using the judicial system to arbitrarily violate the rights of its people.”

Prosecutors and judicial authorities in democracies should not be charging individuals who legitimately exercise their internationally-protected rights to freedom of expression in raising attention to issues such as internet shutdowns, which have been condemned in international human rights law, and result in the deprival of rights to millions of individuals. Access Now had previously joined six other organizations in calling for Maung Saungkha’s release via an open letter.

Maung Saungkha should never have been convicted. His decision to undergo jail time instead of a fine is a brave, courageous statement, and a reminder to us all of the need to stand up when fundamental human rights are curtailed. But judicial bodies in Myanmar should rescind or overturn the conviction,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific Policy Director at Access Now.