Global Voices

Animated film explains how Myanmar's Telecommunications Law undermines free speech

"The law is frequently used by the powerful to silence dissent, and with more than 100 cases filed, its chilling effect on free expression is widespread."

Film screening at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum. Photo from EngageMedia.

A short animated film is helping to educate the public about Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law and the ways that it can suppress free speech.

Are You Ready is a collaboration between EngageMedia and several digital rights activists in Myanmar. It was first screened in December 2018 in Yangon at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum. Myanmar ICT for Development Organization and Phandeeyar Innovation Lab were among those who helped organize the film screening.

EngageMedia said the film “describes the impact on freedom of expression in Myanmar, and how people's digital rights are being violated.” It added:

The film showcases how authorities abuse the law to avoid and repress dissent.

The law is frequently used by the powerful to silence dissent, and with more than 100 cases filed, its chilling effect on free expression is widespread.

The film focuses on Article 66(d) of the law, which criminalizes everything from “extorting” to “disturbing” to “causing undue influence” toward another person. It has been controversial since 2013 because it has mainly been used by authorities to intimidate critics and journalists. Its vague wording and harsh penalties have been abused to silence ordinary citizens. Here’s the exact text of Article 66(d):

66. Whoever commits any of the following acts shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to a fine or to both. (d) Extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening to any person by using any Telecommunications Network.

It was slightly amended in 2017, but human rights groups say it failed to address many concerns about the draconian features of the law. Maung Saung Kha, from youth group Athan, acknowledged the value of the animated film in their campaign to abolish Article 66(d):

There have been no effective changes even though Telecommunications Law was amended in 2017. But there were more than 70 cases under the law. Are You Ready reflects the impact of Article 66(d) and it is very helpful to the Telecommunications Law amendment campaigns.

Watch the animated film:

Originally published in Global Voices.

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