JAKARTA, 19 July 2017 — Authorities in Myanmar should immediately release three journalists arrested last month in Shan State, drop all charges against them, and repeal or amend laws used to curb media freedom, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said today.
The collective of regional lawmakers made the call a day after a surprise court appearance for the journalists, at which their scheduled hearing date was postponed. The journalists are charged under the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act. Southeast Asian parliamentarians said the continued use of this law, as well as other statutes such as Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, to imprison media workers and others has raised concerns about the state of press freedom in the country and highlighted the urgent need for legislative reform.
“Myanmar authorities must immediately release and drop all charges against these dedicated journalists, who have been targeted on flimsy pretexts for simply doing their jobs,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.
“The clear abuse of existing statutes in this case demonstrates the need for quick action to repeal or amend all laws that have been used to arrest journalists and others for exercising their right to free expression. If the NLD government is serious about promoting the rule of law, it must ensure that laws on the books uphold justice and cannot be used to arbitrarily go after critics of the government or military.”
The three journalists – Lawi Weng of The Irrawaddy and Aye Nai and Pyae Phone Aung of Democratic Voice of Burma – were arrested on 26 June by the Myanmar military in northern Shan State while on their way back from covering a Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) drug burning event. The three were subsequently charged under Article 17(1) of the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act and could face up to three years in prison if convicted. The Act criminalizes assistance to and involvement with unlawful organizations, including ethnic armed groups – acts which MPs argued do not apply in this case. Their next court date, which was scheduled for 21 July, has now been postponed to 28 July.
“It’s the job of a journalist to speak to all sources. Covering developments in conflict areas is already dangerous work, and journalists shouldn’t have to add to their list of worries the possibility that the military might imprison them based on a century-old law that clearly wasn’t intended to apply to them and should have been repealed altogether long ago,” Santiago said.
The arrests come in a context of growing concerns about the state of freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Myanmar less than a year and a half after the National League for Democracy (NLD) came to power, following a landslide electoral victory in November 2015. Another statute, Section 66(d) of Myanmar’s 2013 Telecommunications Law, has been used to target dozens under NLD rule. At least 71 people have been charged for online defamation under the law since its passage, including over a dozen journalists, as well as many others for posts made on Facebook.
On 29 June, APHR joined with 60 other local and international human rights organizations to call for the repeal of Section 66(d). A week later, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi said that her government was considering amending the statute. Proposed changes include allowing bail for those charged and removing the ability of third parties to file complaints, but the draft amendments put forward publicly fail to scrap Section 66(d) entirely. APHR reiterated its call for a full repeal, as well as an end to criminal defamation in Myanmar.
“This law is overly broad and wide open to abuse. We are glad to hear that the NLD government is considering amending it, and we urge them to pursue a full repeal of Section 66(d). Its continued use represents a clear attempt to stifle criticism of the government,” said APHR Vice Chair Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the House of Representatives of Indonesia.
MPs called for the Myanmar Parliament and NLD government to prioritize the repeal or revision of all laws violating fundamental freedoms and the creation of an enabling environment for media, arguing that Myanmar’s still-unfinished transition is threatened by the increasingly hostile climate for the press.
“We hope that Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD will live up to the promises that got them elected: building an open, tolerant Myanmar that respects fundamental democratic freedoms. Freedom of the press is a core component of sustainable democracy, supporting the promotion of transparency, accountability, and the welfare of the people,” Sundari said.
“Media freedom benefits everyone, so journalists must be protected and able to do their work. If Myanmar is to succeed at building the kind of democratic society we still hope it can become, it must start by removing threats to a free press.”
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View the original statement HERE.
ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္ ျမန္မာဘာသာကုိ ဤေနရာတြင္ ရယူႏုိင္သည္။