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'Strangulation of free speech in Myanmar': Former columnist jailed for 'abusive' Facebook posts on Aung San Suu Kyi

Yangon: A former columnist for state media has been jailed for seven years for "abusive" Facebook posts about Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a court official said on Wednesday, the latest case threatening free expression in the country. Ngar Min Swe was sentenced for sedition on Tuesday, Yangon's Western District Court spokesperson Htay Aung said.

"He was convicted... for writing abusive posts on Facebook against State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, making people get the wrong impression of her," Htay Aung said.

 Strangulation of free speech in Myanmar: Former columnist jailed for abusive Facebook posts on Aung San Suu Kyi

File image of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi. AP

Myanmar has already faced widespread condemnation for infringing on freedom of expression after the jailing earlier this month of two Reuters journalists who reported on the Rohingya crisis.

Ngar Min Swe worked as a columnist under the previous military-backed government. Since Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party rose to power in 2016, he has written posts against her and the party.

He was arrested on 12 July, the same day he posted about Suu Kyi receiving a kiss on the cheek from former United States president Barack Obama during his visit in 2013. The innocuous gesture came in for criticism from a conservative Myanmar public, especially supporters of the army-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party — like Ngar Min Swe, who took to social media to lob sexist jibes at Suu Kyi.

Facebook is wildly popular in Myanmar, but users who have hit out at senior leaders of the military or civilian government have faced jail time.

Independent analyst David Mathieson said the sentence is yet another example of "the strangulation of free speech" in the country. "Myanmar is in free-fall to resurgent autocracy and imprisoning journalists for colonial-era sounding 'sedition' is yet another warning sign," Mathieson said.

Under the junta, Myanmar routinely jailed journalists and activists but gradually opened up from 2011 and promised greater freedoms for the media.

But supporters of Suu Kyi have been disappointed in recent years by the deterioration of human rights in the country, most notably in the jailing of the Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who had exposed a massacre of Rohingya Muslims committed by soldiers.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt promised to raise the Reuters case in meetings with Suu Kyi this week during a high-profile visit, in which will visit Rakhine state, the epicentre of the Rohingya crisis. Hunt's visit comes as the United Nations has called for the Myanmar military to be held accountable for the "genocide" committed against the Muslim minority.

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Updated Date: Sep 19, 2018 18:11:48 IST