Human Rights Watch has said on Friday Myanmar’s government under the presidency of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has used several autocratic laws to prosecute peaceful critics with dashing hopes that the country’s very-first democratic leader in decades would safeguard the free speech.
According to Reuters news reports, freedom of expression has been becoming progressively worse since Aung’s administration came into power from 2016, the rights group has said in its report with creating a “climate of fear” among the journalists, adding, “Dashed Hopes: The Criminalization of Peaceful Expression in Myanmar”.
In a statement, Asia legal adviser at Human Rights Watch and report’s author Linda Lakhdir said: “Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy promised a new Myanmar but the government still prosecutes peaceful speech and protests and has failed to revise old oppressive laws.”
The military government, who ruled the country for several decades, has placed severe restrictions over free speech. Reforms which were undertaken by the quasi-civilian administration which came into power in 2010 along with the abolition of censorship had “positive implications for speech and assembly”, HRW said.
However, it further stated, Aung-led government had yet made “only marginal changes” to oppressive bills and continues to use “overly broad, vague, and abusive laws” in order to prosecute peaceful assembly and speech.
“Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has had a real opportunity to abolish the tools of oppression used by the military juntas, but has instead used them against peaceful critics and protesters,” Lakhdhir said.
“It’s not too late to reverse course and take steps to fully protect speech and assembly in Myanmar,” she said.
Athan, Myanmar free speech group, whose reports were quoted by HRW, said around 140 cases, since 2016, had been filed under the Telecommunication Act, where half of its involved prosecution for peaceful speech.
The parliament has made some amendments to the section 66 (d) of the act, which directs to punish anyone who “defames” someone using the telecommunications network giving them two-year prison time but has rejected calls to further repeal the provision.
HRW said reporters were especially vulnerable to attacks and prosecution, with several threats from authorities, including militant supporters and nationalists of the government or army.
The HRW report said: “The result has been a climate of fear among local journalists.”
Laws criminalizing defamation, the Official Secrets Act, the Unlawful Associations Act, the 1934 Aircraft Act, and section 131 of the Myanmar Penal Code have all been used against journalists in recent years.