Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Weekly Highlights: For a “Free and Fair” Election, Freedom of Expression Must be Upheld

 

12 - 18 October 2015

Weekly Highlights
 

For a "Free and Fair" Election, Freedom of Expression Must be Upheld

On14 October 2015, plainclothes police arrested Patrick Khum Jaa Lee on the grounds that he had shared a photo on Facebook that was deemed to be insulting to the Burma Army Chief, Min Aung Hlaing. A similar incident occurred earlier last week, in which 25-year-old Chaw Sandi Htun was arrested and charged under  Article 500 of the Criminal Procedure Code for defamation along with the 2004 Electronic Transactions Law for using Facebook to compare the new colour of the Burma Army uniforms to that of Aung San Suu Kyi's htamein (A traditional sarong worn by women in Burma).

In stark contrast, last year Burma's Deputy Minister, Ye Htut was merely required to release a public apology after it was found that his wife had released altered photos of Aung San Suu Kyi wearing what appeared to be a hijab.

Ironically, President Thein Sein recently released a video on his own Facebook page, which stated, "Once, [Burma] was a country which was full of censorship where people could never dream of freedom of expression... Since president Thein Sein took charge, everything has changed."

If anything, freedom of expression in Burma has changed for the worse, especially in the lead up to the 2015 elections. This claim is supported by a new report from Amnesty International, aptly titled Back to the Old Ways, which cites a disturbing increase in the number of recent arrests of human rights defenders as compared to the 2013 – 2014 period.

The 10 March 2015 brutal crackdown on students and activists protesting the National Education Law at Letpadan is a particularly egregious example of the lack of room for free expression. According to Fortify Rights, 77 of the protestors – many of who have faced abuse while in custody – have been charged with sentences that may result in up to nine years and six months in prison.

Similarly last year, five journalists from Unity Weekly were arrested and charged for up to ten years imprisonment after reporting on a suspected chemical weapons factory.

The joint report from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners and Burma Partnership, How to Defend the Defenders, details how human rights defenders in Burma are subjected to intimidation through extrajudicial killings and violence, sexual violence, discrimination, surveillance, legislative and judicial harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention.

It is clear that the Burma Government does not understand or simply will not allow the people of Burma to enjoy a truly universal freedom of expression. Unfortunately, the freedom to choose one's opinion – even if it contradicts with the prevailing view of government in power – is a cornerstone of the modern democratic state. With the Union Election Commission (UEC) prohibiting political opposition parties from criticizing both the Burma Army and the 2008 Constitution, democracy in the upcoming 2015 elections is likely to be non-existent.

In addition to the direct suppression of voices, the Burma Government is also utilizing a number of alternative methods to ensure that significant portions of the country's population remain unheard of during the election period. The UEC's decision to "screen" certain prospective parliamentary candidates, which disproportionately affects representatives of Muslim minorities, is one such example. The removal of voting rights for the Rohingya, the decision to neglect fixing incorrect voter registrations, and the intimidation of political representatives and voters through proxies of the Burma Army are all further illustrations of the Government's attempt to silence its opposition.

In a press statement following the release of Back to the Old Ways, Amnesty International researcher Laura Haigh notes, "Myanmar's authorities have clearly been playing a long game ahead of the elections, with repression picking up pace at least nine months before the campaigning period started in September. Their goal has been straightforward – take 'undesirable' voices off the streets way ahead of the elections and make sure they're not heard."

The lack of freedom of expression in Burma does not bode well for the upcoming elections in November. If the ability to freely criticize the Burma Government, the Burma Army, or even the 2008 constitution is restricted, the will of the people of Burma will be overshadowed and the elections will produce nothing but continued repression. Furthermore, military power will only be further consolidated in Burma's political sphere. If the Burma Government truly wishes to hold its first "free and fair" elections, it must demonstrate its commitment to the Freedom of Expression. Political prisoners and detainees must be released, charges against activists must be dropped, activists must be free to stage peaceful protests, and voters must be empowered to voice their concerns.

Editor's Note: The Weekly Highlights will remain focused on the General Elections in Burma over the following weeks. Please check back for continued analysis on election related news.

 

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Action 

TAKE ACTION! Write a letter calling on the authorities in Burma to immediately and unconditionally release Patrick Kum Jaa Lee and Chaw Sandi Tun who have been detained in connection with a Facebook post mocking the Burma Army

TAKE ACTION! Write a letter calling on the Burma Government to immediately and unconditionally release the student activist Phyoe Phyoe Aung from all charges

In Irrawaddy Region, Hinthada township, approximately 80 farmers hold a demonstration to demand compensation for over 500 acres of their land which was grabbed in 2003 by the authorities in order to build a dam


Statements and Press Releases  

Statement on New Mon State Party's Stand on the All-Inclusive Policy

By 22 Mon Organisations

AAPP Demand the Release of Social Media Activists

By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

၂၀၁၅ အေထြေထြေရြးေကာက္ပြဲႏွင့္ပတ္သက္၍ ရခုိင္ျပည္လုံးဆုိင္ရာေက်ာင္းသားႏွင့္လူငယ္မ်ားအစည္းအ႐ုံး (AASYC) မွ ထုုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္
By All Arakan Students' and Youths' Congress

Myanmar: Immediately Release Two People Detained for Mocking Army on Facebook

By Amnesty International 

ေဒၚေအာင္ဆန္းစုၾကည္၏ ရခိုင္ခရီးစဥ္ႏွင့္ပတ္သက္ေသာ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္

By Arakan National Network

ASEAN parliamentarians warn of looming regional crisis resulting from systematic discrimination in Myanmar's Rakhine State
By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

CSOs Forum Statement on Upcoming Multi-party General Elections

By Civil Society Organizations Forum

တစ္ႏုိင္ငံလံုးပစ္ခတ္တုိက္ခိုက္မႈရပ္စဲေရးသေဘာတူစာခ်ဳပ္ကို လက္မွတ္ေရးထိုးသည့္ တုိင္းရင္းသားလက္နက္ကုိင္ေတာ္လွန္ေရးအဖြဲ႔အစည္းမ်ား၏ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္

By Ethnic Armed Organizations

Myanmar: Drop Charges Against Human Rights Lawyer Khin Khin Kyaw

By Fortify Rights and Justice Trust

Human Rights Watch: Activists Charged for Mocking Military Online

By Human Rights Watch

NCA လက္မွတ္ထုိးျခင္းအေပၚ International Karen Organisation သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္

By International Karen Organisation

Statement by Kawthoolei Armed Forces on signing NCA

By Kawthoolei Armed Forces

Statement of Kachin Democratic Party Related with Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement

By Kachin Democratic Party

Statement of KNLA on signing of the NCA by the KNU

By Karen National Liberation Army

Karen National Liberation Army Position with Regard to Ceasefire

By Karen National Liberation Army

Karen National Defense Organization Statement on Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement

By Karen National Defence Organisation

မြန္ ျပည္မြန္ ျပည္သစ္ပါတီ၏အားလုံးပါ၀င္သည့္တနိင္ငံ လုံးအပစ္အခတ္ရပ္ စဲေရး ရပ္ တည္ခ်က္အေပၚ သေဘာထားထု တ္ ျပန္ခ်က္

By Mon Civil Society Organizations

Statement by the Peace Support Group on the Signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Accord in Myanmar

By Peace Support Group

If Naypyidaw Wants Peace, it Must Stop its Military Advances into Shan Ceasefire Territories

By Shan Community Based Organisations

Burma Army Soldiers who Opened Fire on Villagers at eastern Shan State Gold Mine Must be Prosecuted

By Shan Farmers' Network and Shan Human Rights Foundation

ျမန္မာ့တပ္မေတာ္စစ္ေၾကာင္း၏ ႏိုင္ထက္စီးနင္းထုိးေဖာက္တိုက္ခုိက္ေနမႈအေပၚ SSPP/SSA၏ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္

By Shan State Progressive Party

ကမာၻ႔ဒီမိုကေရစီ လူငယ္မ်ားေန႔အထိမ္းအမွတ္ ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္
By Students and Youth Congress of Burma

Statement Attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on Myanmar

By United Nations

စည္းလုံးညီညြတ္ေသာ တုိင္းရင္းသားလူမ်ိဳးမ်ား အဟာမိတ္အဖဲြ႔ ထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္

By United Nationalities Alliance

ႏိုင္ဟံသာ။ ျမန္မာျပည္ ေအးခ်မ္းတည္ၿငိမ္တိုးတက္ေစမည့္နည္းလမ္း

By United Nationalities Federal Council

Vice Chair Crowley Extremely Concerned About Burmese Government's Arrest of Peaceful Activists

By US Congressman Joseph Crowley

Statement by John Kirby, Spokesperson: Singing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in Burma

By US Department of State

Statement by the Women's League of Burma A non-inclusive Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement will not Bring Peace

By Women's League of Burma

Reports

Disenfranchisement and Desperation in Myanmar's Rakhine State: Drivers of a Regional Crisis

By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and the Ethnic Armed Organizations

By Ethnic Armed Organizations and Union Peace Working Committee

Fighting between Tatmadaw and KNLA soldiers leads to violent abuse and displacement of villagers in Bu Tho Township, Hpapun District, October 2015

By Karen Human Rights Group

Burma: International Religious Freedom Report for 2014

By US Department of State

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