Today, the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) is celebrating World Press Freedom Day. HURFOM believes that a free and independent press is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and that any action taken to intimidate or silence journalists, and thus obscure and conceal the truth, is an attack on the principles of freedom, justice, equality, and representation upon which democracy rests. Press freedom holds the powerful to account, ensures that institutions remain fair and impartial, and provides people with the information they need to make informed decisions and exercise their political agency.
In recognition of the critical role the media have played in Burma/Myanmar’s democratic transition, HURFOM honors the many journalists, editors, and publishers who put their safety, well-being, and freedom at risk in the course of their duties, and extends deep gratitude to those who have sacrificed their freedom, or even their lives, under the banner of truth in journalism.
In 2019, only eight short years after the promise of a free and democratic Burma/Myanmar appeared on the horizon, press freedom in Burma/Myanmar is under direct threat from a confluence of laws that aim to curb and contain free expression. Together with Article 500 of the 1861 Penal Code, Article 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law has criminalized criticism of the government and the military, with journalists regularly jailed on dubious defamation charges. The 2014 News Media Law gives the government undue regulatory powers to quell criticism and promote state-crafted media narratives, whereas the 2017 Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens is deployed to again silence criticism of the authorities. Finally, two colonial era laws, the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act and the 1923 Official Secrets Act, have seen journalists arrested for interviewing members of Burma/Myanmar’s many ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), for simply traveling within EAO territory, or for the publication of information deemed to jeopardize state security. Of equal concern, many of these same laws are also used to silence private individuals who express dissent or criticize public figures on social media.
The era of democratic reform has brought considerable change to Burma/Myanmar, but as the renewed attacks on press freedom demonstrate, echoes of military rule ring far too loud. A Burma/Myanmar where democracy, human rights, and peace have been restored is only possible if journalists, editors, and publishers are free from fear of arbitrary arrest, detention, and reprisal. Until the laws that imperil press freedom are amended to be brought in line with international human rights standards, or are altogether abolished, Burma/Myanmar’s transition to democracy will forever remain woefully incomplete.
In solidarity with the 189 civil society organizations in Burma/Myanmar who jointly honor and commemorate World Press Freedom Day 2019, HURFOM recommends the Burma/Myanmar Government to:
- Immediately release all political prisoners detained throughout Burma/Myanmar for their work in media.
- Amend or repeal Article 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law, the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act, the 1923 Official Secrets Act, Article 500 of the 1861 Penal Code, the 2014 News Media Law, and the 2017 Privacy Law in accordance with international principles and standards.
View this original statement here.