Words, Signs or Visible Representations of Sedition

  • By Maung Sarga
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Hluttaws comprising of people’s representatives elected by the entire national populace under the Constitution, 2008 formed and assigned the Union Government, Region and State Governments including Nay Pyi Taw Council, Self-Administered Division and Self-Administered Zone. Under the Constitution, district and township level administration duties are assigned to government service personnel, with ward and village-tract administration duties assigned to those with good reputation who are respected by the respective regions.
The Union Government, the respective regional cabinets and administrative bodies at different levels are taking responsibilities of management for the national development and progress in multi-sectors. In doing so, the whole national populace have the rights to suggest, criticize and point out in constructive ways, together with the collective participations in the government’s activities. Yet, it is of great importance not to happen seditious activities to the government. Here is a brief account of sedition for our people to be well convinced of it.

Meaning of seditious deeds
Under section 124 (A) if the Penal Code, whoever by word, either spoken or written, by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, makes attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites, or attempt to excite disaffection toward [the Government established by law for Union or for the constituent units thereof] shall be punished with 20 year- imprisonment with fine or 7 year imprisonment with fine or shall be punished with fine only.
Here, anyone is meant for not only the person writes seditious statements but also those who announce or distribute the statements, and they can also be arrested under the section. Every individual who publishes this seditious writings is responsible either. He cannot deny that he is not responsible for this as he himself does not write it. Sedition can be made in various ways—by word, either spoken or written, by signs or by visible representation. Seditious deeds include description by music, publications, performances such as films and puppets, sculptures, photographs, paintings and such and such.

Aims of committing sedition
Three aims and objectives of making seditious deeds are to bring into hatred toward the government, to bring into contempt to the regime, and to excite disaffection toward the government. Disaffection includes disloyalty and grudges. Making disaffection is meant for making someone lose affection toward another. According to the explanation of section 124 (A) of the Penal Code disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
Hatred and contempt are not the same in nature. Contempt is the feeling that somebody or something is without value and deserves no respect at all. Though not having feelings of hatred, a person may have feelings of contempt toward others. A person with feelings of contempt may have kinds of pity, so he cannot be asserted to have hatred. Words—either spoken or written to arouse disloyalty toward the government is meant for making sedition to the regime.

Meaning of the government
Concerning the word, “the government,” in section 17 of the Penal Code it is defined that the word “Government” denotes the person or persons authorized by law to administer executive government in any part of the Union of Myanmar.
Under the prescription, if someone commits an attempt to incite sedition to the Union Government, Region and State Cabinet including ward or village-tract administrative bodies, that is, any person or persons in authority in any part of the country, he is committing seditious deeds.

Difference between defamation and sedition
Under section 499 of the Penal Code, whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person, intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter excepted, to defame that person. Under section 500 of the Penal Code, whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. Under section 153 (A) of the Penal Code whoever by words, either spoken or written, by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote feelings of hatred or enmity between different classes of [persons, resident in the Union] shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Inciting hatred, contempt, or disaffection toward the government is tantamount to making seditious actions, thus to be arrested under section 124 (A) of the Penal Code.
In defamatory cases, one may assert that his allegation against someone else does not constitute offence as that is true, whereas in seditious cases that statement is unacceptable. Defamation is the offence made over a person only, but sedition is the offence committed against the government. It is the beginning of high treason. It is intentionally made for emergence of violence, riots and revolt to overthrow the regime.

Failure to constitute an offence
In section 124 (A) of the Penal Code, here are detailed explanations concerning sedition. Explanation 2—Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the government with a view to obtain their alteration by unlawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection do not constitute an offence under this section. In explanation 3, it is described, comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection do not constitute an offence under this section.
Under those prescriptions, freedom from willingness to bring into hatred, contempt or disaffection toward the government is the major key in making critical remarks or writing toward the government.
Without a hint of hatred, contempt or disaffection toward the government, disclosure and expression about the disapproval of the government’s actions with a view to lawful change, do not constitute an offence of sedition.

Exemplary precedents
Here are some exemplary precedents concerning seditious actions.

[1] In making decision as to whether the speech constitutes an offence of sedition or not, it needs to be taken into consideration concerning the objectives of the speaker, understanding of listeners over the speech to the full, time and location that the speech is made. [U Damadaya V King-Emperor 1923, 1Ran-211]
[2] The essence of the whole speech and its main objective must be studied, absolutely not a passage or a mere word. In case there are words that will cause sedition in the speech, it actually constitutes an offence under section 124 (A). [Lay Maung V The King, 1939 RLR 239]
[3] In making seditious speech, the speaker should be severely punished provided that he makes the speech vigorously enough for the listeners to have aspiration for making a revolt against the government, all of a sudden. [The King V U Datthana 1940 RLR.681]
[4] For a case to constitute an offence of sedition under section 124(A), there is no need to prove other evidence of making riots or terrorism. And, there is no need to prove from outside evidences, apart from the words, in deciding that the speaker has intentions to cause sedition or not. [The King V U Saw Hla Pru and one. 1947, RLR, FB.82]
In brief, suggestions and critics with good intention toward the government leading the country do not constitute an offence of sedition, but it needs to avoid deeds and speech that will bring into hatred, disloyalty, feelings of revenges to each other.
May all of us cooperate with loving-kindness!

Translated by Khin Maung Oo

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