When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo walked free from Insein Prison last week, there was no shortage of voices praising their employers at Reuters for consistently, publicly calling for their release over their more than 500 days behind bars.
Now friends and colleagues of filmmaker and activist Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, arrested on defamation charges last month for criticizing the military on Facebook, are hoping to make a little noise of their own.
Founded by Min Htin’s colleagues at the Human Rights, Human Dignity Film Institute — of which he is a co-founder — Facebook page Justice for Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi launched on Saturday, with 20 portraits of filmmakers and rights advocates holding a sign reading “Free Min Htin Ko Ko Gy,” along with the caption #FreeMinHtin and their names. It quickly gained more than 1,000 likes.
The campaign’s leader, Kyay Yi Lin Six, a filmmaker and journalist in her own right, told Coconuts Yangon that the success of the campaign doesn’t just stop at freedom for Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, but extends to anyone being sued under Myanmar’s increasingly notorious defamation laws.
The filmmaker is being charged under section 66(d) of the Communications Law and section 505(a) of the Myanmar Penal Code, widely decried by critics as politicized and highly malleable. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
“We began this campaign because we want equal and fair treatment for director Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who is being charged under 66(d) and 505(a). Moreover, we want to abolish 66(d) and 505(a) and any clauses that affect freedom of expression and the people to understand why,” Lin Six said.
In late April, Amnesty International called the director’s arrest “politically motivated,” crediting it to a “range of repressive laws, used to silence critical voices.”
“The campaign’s purpose is to inform the public about 66(d) and 505(a), which has threatened not just scholars, activists, and journalists, but everyone. We want people to understand that these laws can affect anyone at anytime,” she concluded.
In February, Human Rights Watch called on the Myanmar government and military to amend its “overly broad, vague and abusive laws” that have been used to “suppress peaceful expression and freedom of the press.
Calls to free the filmmaker are coming from international filmmakers and rights advocates as well.
“Aung San Suu Kyi and her government should immediately prioritize the revocation of article 66(d), article 505 in its entirety, and other rights abusing laws regularly used to violate freedom of expression,” Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division deputy director told Coconuts Yangon.
“There really is no excuse for the NLD’s inaction in the face of such a concerted effort to suppress freedom of expression and media freedom,” Robertson continued, “The NLD has a super majority in Parliament sufficient to pass or abolish any normal law.”
Late last month, more than 450 film professionals around the world signed an open letter, co-published by the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) and the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), calling for the release of Min Htin on humanitarian grounds.
The filmmaker’s health is fragile, after undergoing invasive surgery for liver cancer just three months prior to his arrest; he is also suffering from heart and kidney diseases. According to Myanmar Now, the filmmaker briefly fainted during a hearing in late April. The presiding judge denied his bail and sent him to Insein Prison the same day.
From late February to mid-March, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi lambasted the military in a series of Facebook posts, taking aim at the military-drafted 2008 Constitution and the army’s role in Myanmar politics, calling former dictator Than Shwe a “thief.”
His next hearing is on May 23.
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