‘Penis’ poet jailed for six months

The former president Thein Sein was not mentioned in the poem. Source: Wikimedia

A Burmese court has jailed a young poet for six months for allegedly defaming the former president Thein Sein, making him one of the first political activists sentenced since the National League for Democracy (NLD) government took power in April.

Maung Saung Kha, 23, posted a poem on Facebook mentioning a tattoo of a president on his penis. He was charged with defaming Thein Sein under the controversial telecommunications law, which is often used to curb freedom of speech.

Maung Saung Kha had already spent more than six months behind bars since being arrested so he is due to be freed this week. He is an interfaith activist and member of a youth group connected to the NLD.

The poem read:

On my manhood rests a tattooed

portrait of Mr President

My beloved found that out after

we wed

She was utterly gutted,

Inconsolable.

Keen observers will note that it does not mention which president and Maung Saung Kha could just have easily been referring to George Washington as Thein Sein.

The case highlights the ongoing political power of the military, which has control of the Ministry of Home Affairs where justice is dispensed.

The telecommunications law is used to stamp out anything on social media that the military decided could “extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb, inappropriately influence or intimidate”.

Maung Saung Kha outside the court said: “I’m glad I can go home freely, but I’m disappointed about the verdict. Even though we have a democratically elected government, the verdict was like from the old days.”

Earlier he said: “Even though it is said we have freedom of expression, now they charged me because I wrote a poem. So I was surprised.”

As well as overseeing the courts, the military-drafted 2008 constitution grants the armed forces control of the ministries of defence and border security and 25 per cent of parliamentary seats, which enable it to select the first vice-president.

Burmese nationalists used poetry against British imperialists and many of the activists in the pro-democracy protests in 1988 were also writers and poets.

Last year, NGO staff member Patrick Kum Jaa Lee was sentenced to six months in jail for commenting on a picture showing a foot standing on a photo of commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s government released most political prisoners after taking office but 64 people remained behind bars and 138 were on trial for political activism, said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

NLD MPs are working in parliament to draw up a list of laws to be reformed or scrapped.