Tag Archives: Win Maw

Cyber-thought crime in Bangkok and Rangoon

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A court in Rangoon on March 5 sentenced three men who didn’t know each other to a decade’s imprisonment for a crime that they never committed – or rather, for a crime so nebulous that if any of them had ever used a computer he wouldn’t know if he had committed it or not.

The three, Win Maw, Zaw Min and Aung Zaw Myo, were accused of sending news about the September 2007 protests in Burma through the Internet. All were already in jail for other purported crimes.

The next day, police in Bangkok came to one of Thailand’s few outspoken and credible media outlets, Prachatai, searched the premises and arrested its director, Chiranuch Premchaiporn. She is accused of having failed to patrol, censor and delete the comments that readers left on a news website.

The police have charged Chiranuch under the Computer Crime Act 2007, which is only an “act” to the extent that the assembly of handpicked military stooges that passed it could be considered a legislature. According to this law, the importing of “false computer data, in a manner that is likely to cause damage” to a third party or the public or “is likely to damage the country’s security or cause a public panic” can land the accused a five-year jail term.

Now let’s compare that with Burma’s Electronic Transactions Law 2004, Continue reading

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Frantic week behind Burma’s court doors

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It has been a frantic week in Burma’s closed courts. At least 60 people have in the past few days been sentenced for their roles in last year’s mass protests, including high-profile activists, monks, a blogger and a poet.

The blogger, Nay Phone Latt, was given a sentence of 20 years and six months for having defaced images of national leaders, writings and cartoons in his email inbox, and for having had contact with other people involved in the protests.

The young man’s mother cried when she heard the verdict. She had been told to expect a sentence of around 10 years, but on just one charge under a new hold-all Internet law he was given 15.

The poet, Saw Wai, was sentenced to two years on a much more old-fashioned charge of upsetting public tranquility, which can be thrown at just about anyone for anything. He got it for writing a concealed anti-dictator message into a Valentine’s Day poem.

It wasn’t very well concealed. But well enough that the censors missed it and the magazine went to print before he was found out.

Then there was Ma Su Su Nwe, who received 12 years and six months for being at the forefront of protests that began after the government increased the price of fuels in August. Continue reading

Rangoon rent-a-witness

Win Maw (above) was always running a risk by sending news from the protests in Rangoon to an overseas radio station last year. But when the police caught up with him in November, they had a problem. He hadn’t actually done anything illegal.

As it is not an offense for someone in Burma to contact a foreign broadcaster, the investigating officer in Win Maw’s case had to stretch the law quite some distance to come up with an alleged crime. In the end, he chose a highly malleable section of the criminal code on upsetting public tranquility, one that has been used against many people in Burma since last year and one that can be stretched very far indeed.

But this decision should have introduced some new problems. The section on public tranquility requires the police to show that the accused either intended to or did in fact upset public tranquility through his behavior. It is not enough for them to merely prove that Win Maw was sending news abroad. They have to demonstrate that he did so with a specific intent or desired result.

In March, the Special Branch officer handling the case, Police Major Ye Nyunt, submitted his complaint to the court. In it, he claimed that Win Maw had upset public tranquility specifically by sending false news overseas that would alarm the public. So it follows that this is what would need to be proven in court, through evidence revealing the contents of what he sent and its conceivable consequences.

Or so it would be if Burma had a sane legal system. That it does not is apparent from what was brought to the court in lieu of the requisite proof. Continue reading