Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Weekly Highlights: No Bail, Still in Jail



No Bail, Still in Jail

Three journalists arrested for contacting an ethnic armed group attend the first session of their trial in Hsipaw, northern Shan State on July 28, 2017. / The Irrawaddy




The three journalists arrested and charged under the Unlawful Associations Act after covering a drug-burning ceremony of the Ta'ang National Liberation Army – Lawi Weng, U Aye Naing, and Ko Pyae Phone Aung - remain in prison after their application for bail was denied. While other media workers – Ko Swe Win and U Kyaw Min Swe – have been granted bail after being charged under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, debates in Parliament to amend the very law that was used to arrest them as they carried out their role as journalists do not go far enough to protect media freedom.

On 4 August, 2017 the Hsipaw Township Court refused to grant bail to U Aye Naing and Ko Pyae Phone Aung of the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), and Lawi Weng of The Irrawaddy, the judge stating that they were not residents of the local area, and needed more time to get a full picture of the events. It has been six weeks now since they were arrested and charged under the Unlawful Associations Act, a law that has been used for decades by successive military regimes to lock up democracy activists and in particular, people from ethnic minority areas. The two drivers and a musician friend of the journalists remain in prison under the same charges.

For the Chief Editor of The Voice Daily, U Kyaw Min Swe, it took two months for him to be released on bail after being charged under the Media Law and for defamation under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law. Article 66(d) states that anyone who uses "telecommunication network to extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb inappropriately influence or intimidate," can receive up to three years in prison. U Kyaw Min Swe's offence was to publish an article satirizing the peace process, which the Myanmar[1] Army responded to by filing the charges against him as well as the writer of the piece, Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing (otherwise known as British Ko Ko Maung who was released two weeks after his arrest). Upon his release, U Kyaw Min Swe's insights into the pervasive influence of the Myanmar Army over the judiciary are telling, "The judge has a fear when it comes to cases which involve the military, whether the army interrupts the case or not. They would take the side [of the army]—the safe side—which has less risk for them. I don't want to blame them." Another journalist charged with defamation under Article 66(d), Chief Editor of Myanmar Now, Ko Swe Win, was granted bail on 31 July, 2017 after a member of the ultranationalist Buddhist organization, Ma Ba Tha, filed charges against him over a Facebook post. The post questioned the legitimacy of U Wirathu as a member of the monkhood in response to U Wirathu's Facebook post congratulating and thanking the murderers of constitutional lawyer and senior legal advisor, U Ko Ni in January 2017.

There is no doubt that the pressure on the Government over media freedom, and in particular Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, is increasing as more and more journalists who attempt to report on conflict related or issues sensitive to the military, as well as commentators on social media who are critical of authorities, are being charged.  According to activist, Maung Saungkha, who was charged under Article 66(d) in 2015, 81 defamation cases have been filed under 66(d), most of which since the start of the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led Government. Yet debates this past week in Parliament have shown that the Government and Parliamentarians do not have the political will to repeal legislation that is being used to jail journalists and silence criticism of the authorities. The Upper House of Parliament rejected a proposal to repeal Article 66(c) and 66(d) but approved one slight amendment so that a third party can only file a case if it has a "representative letter" – a stipulation that Maung Saungkha believes will not have a substantive effect on the ability of a third party to file for defamation - demonstrating a muted and insubstantial response to public outcry over the law.

The lack of political will to repeal this problematic section of the Telecommunications Law does not bode well for the future of freedom of expression and a free media in Myanmar. The Myanmar Army in particular is using this law, as well as the Unlawful Associations Act, to punish and intimidate those who bravely speak out against its disproportionate power, violent abuses, and impunity. Despite the fact that Myanmar is not, as many would want to believe, a fully-fledged democracy, (due to the political power of the Myanmar Army entrenched in the 2008 Constitution) and acknowledging that the NLD-led Government is hamstrung by restrictions on what it can do, there is still room for manoeuvre.

It was news outlets such as DVB and The Irrawaddy that worked clandestinely in a hugely dangerous context to provide the outside world with information about Myanmar when it was closed off for so many years. It brought the plight of political prisoners, many of whom are in the Government now, to the attention of the international community. As the media continues to report on the ground situation today, their freedom must be protected. The sitting NLD Members of Parliament (MPs) were largely supported by democratic opposition activists, rights activists and journalists, who campaigned with and alongside them with in the past to end military rule. Now the NLD-led Government can support the legitimate and vital work of journalists and rights activists by repealing the legislation that the powerful are using to silence their critics. Thus, the NLD MPs must take a righteous stand in Parliament and amend or repeal such oppressive laws including Article 66(d) of Telecommunication Law and Article 17/1 of the Unlawful Association to create an enabling environment towards building a genuine democracy.

[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country's name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term 'Myanmar' in acknowledgment that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of 'Myanmar' rather than 'Burma' without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten.







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လက္ရွိႏိုင္ငံေရးျဖစ္ေပၚတိုးတက္မႈႏွင့္ဒုကၡသည္ကူညီေထာက္ပံ့ေရးအေပၚ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
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ထုိးစစ္ဆင္ေနသည့္အစိုးရစစ္တပ္သည္ တစ္ႏုိင္ငံလုံးအပစ္ခတ္ရပ္စဲေရးသေဘာတူညီခ်က္ လက္မွတ္ေရးထုိးထားေသာ (RCSS/SSA)ႏွင့္ ဟုိပုံးၿမိဳ ႔နယ္တြင္ တုိက္ပဲြျဖစ္ၿပီးေနာက္ အရပ္သားမ်ားကုိ ဖမ္းဆီးႏွိပ္စက္ျခင့္ ေပ်ာက္ဆုံးျခင္းမ်ားျဖစ္ပြား
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About Progressive Voice


Progressive Voice is a participatory rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 the same day that Progressive Voice was formally established. For further information, please see our press release "Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice."


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