Defamation suits from National League for Democracy members looking to silence their critics are nothing new in Myanmar, but this particular lawsuit appears to be breaking new ground. Mandalay Chief Minister Dr. Zaw Myint Maung is taking two Facebook users to court over memes.
In a recently filed suit, the former political prisoner has targeted Facebook users Aung Pyae San Win and Swam Ka Bar for memes they posted to the group We Love Dauk Zaw. (Narrator: “They didn’t really love him.”)
“You can’t put the word, ‘Love’ and do whatever you want,” a fuming Dr. Zaw Myint Maung told the Eleven Media Group, referencing the page’s tongue-in-cheek name. “I have freedom. As this is a personal matter, I don’t wish to answer your question. I only address political questions.”
The Facebook group could not be accessed at the time of writing. But Coconuts Myanmar has obtained screenshots of the — incredibly tame — memes at the center of the lawsuit.
In the one below, a photo of the Dr. Zaw Myint Maung and a general is accompanied by a caption that translates:
“Soldier: Doctor, today is a VIP day. Doctor: Yes, we should party harder than previous nights.”
This next one shows the Mandalay chief minister alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and makes a crack about unrequited love.
We’d show you more, but they honestly don’t get any more “edgy” (or funny) than that. So how in the world are such tame memes the center of a lawsuit?
Sadly, hopes that the National League for Democracy’s assumption of power after the 2016 election would mean a new day for free speech in Myanmar were quickly dashed.
If anything, NLD politicians have been perhaps more guilty than their predecessors in using the widely criticized article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, an easily abused statute with notoriously malleable language, to silence their critics.
But while the law offers myriad avenues for stifling free expression in Myanmar, that hasn’t prevented – and, in fact, has likely encouraged – the growth of meme culture over the past few years.
A number of meme groups that have recently popped up on Facebook specialize in memes targeting NLD politicians as Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein, Dr. Zaw Myint Maung, and Dr. Myint Naing. One group, We Love Kwee Phyo, has over 200,000 members.
In response to news of the lawsuit, one Facebook user, Phyo Phyo Aung, posted in We Love MDY King Dauk Zaw, another Facebook group dedicated to memes using photos of the the good doctor, took the Mandalay minister to task for being thin-skinned.
“I regret admiring you in the past, because you sued two young kids for such an unimportant thing,” he wrote. “You become a politician by preaching democracy. If you have to be this thin-skinned, don’t do anything.”