Rights groups have lambasted Myanmar over the arrest of two activists who posted content criticizing the military, known for its longstanding rule. The US State Department called for the activists' immediate release.
"It is outrageous to think that someone could face years in jail for nothing but a harmless Facebook post," said Laura Haigh, Myanmar researcher at human rights watchdog Amnesty International.
Authorities this week arrested two activists, 25-year-old Chaw Sandi Tun and 43-year old Patrick Khum Jaa Lee, for two separate incidents regarding content deemed critical of Myanmar's military posted to Facebook.
"Myanmar's authorities have once again shown how dangerously thin-skinned and vindictive they are when it comes to criticism or ridicule. They might claim that the country has turned a corner on human rights, but this is yet another chilling reminder that the same repressive practices continue," Haigh added.
Both activists were charged under the wide-ranging Electronic Transaction Act of 2004, which prohibits electronic communications deemed "detrimental to the security of the State or prevalence of the law and order or community peace and tranquility or national economy or national culture."
Former political prisoner Aung Sang Suu Kyi's party is considered a potential winner in November's elections
'Whether you like it or not'
Information Permanent Secretary Ting Swe defended the arrests, saying they were aimed at providing stability ahead of Myanmar's first contested parliamentary elections slated for November 8.
"We already warned that we would charge anyone who breaks the existing Electronic Transaction Act, especially during the election period to keep the situation stable," said Information Ministry Permanent Secretary Ting Swe, according to German news agency DPA.
"People must obey all the existing laws whether you like it or not," Swe added.
General Khin Nymt announced in 2003 that the state would take measures to transition to a democracy; Myanmar has been led by a military junta for more than 50 years.
Release activists 'immediately'
US State Department Spokesperson John Kirby on Friday questioned the government's commitment to transitioning to civilian rule amid the arrests.
"The use of such laws to restrict freedom of expression directly contradicts democratic principles and the government's own stated commitment to promote political reform and respect human rights," said State Department Spokesperson John Kirby.
"Freedom of speech, including speech that discusses the military and other government institutions, is integral to a democratic society. And we call on authorities to release these individuals immediately and unconditionally," Kirby said.
ls/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa)