2019 Mid-year Report on Status of Freedom of Expression in Myanmar

Mid-Year Report published

In September 2019, Athan released a mid-year report on the status of freedom of expression. It covers the first six months of 2019. It found that more than 250 people had been charged in more than 70 legal cases challenging their freedom of expression. Additionally, many more face restrictions on their right to freedom of expression. Restrictions include the obstruction of events, restrictions on the right to assembly and procession, an internet shutdown, limited access to information and obstructions to the dissemination of news and information.

Athan continuously monitors and documents incidents of freedom of expression infringement. Athan analysed information from between January 1st and June 31st, 2019 quantitatively to produce the mid-year report. To support the research conclusions, Athan interviwed all concerned parties and consulted legal experts.

Report summary

The report gives an overview of laws under which people have been prosecuted for expressing their opinion. It puts a particular focus on journalists before delving into the different laws.

Eleven journalists faced charges in eight cases within the first six months of 2019, none of them under the News Media Law. However, 45% of the cases involved the Telecommunications law.

The Telecommunication Law featured in the prosecution of 40 people in 26 legal cases in total. Nine of those cases concerned matters of political criticism. The accused were ordinary citizens rather than politicians, activists and other public personalities in 40% of all cases.

The Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, Section 19 in particular, was brought against as many as 43 defendants in just seven cases . Most people accused under this law were Karenni youth activists who protested against a plan to install a statue of General Aung San Kayah State. The state government later dropped the charges after an out-of-court agreement between the young activists and the Chief Minister of Kayah State in February.

Section 505 of the Penal Code has continuously been used to charge people addressing contentious issues, such as charter change. During the time in question, 50 people were charged in eleven cases.

The more recent Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens has been used in prosecuting 78 people in 21 cases. Parliament enacted the law in March 2017. Parts of it allow third party complaints. Since its enactment, it has been used in cases of alleged defamation, among other things.

Further issues impeding freedom of expression

The internet shutdown in several townships in Rakhine and Chin State took effect on June 21st. The Ministry for Transport and Telecommunications directed the shutdown, the Union Government authorised and telecommunication operators had to execute it. It significantly impacted on freedom of expression.

Additionally, some of those who voice their concerns to politicians or the government later have to face charges. They get charged under the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens, for instance. Protestors also face the risk of dying in custody. A person who joined a local protest in Mandalay region died in custody on June 5th, 2019 three days after his arrest. Lastly, the dispute over the installation of a statue of General Aung San in Kayah State remains unresolved. Local government had charged protestors under both Section 505 of the Penal Code and the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens. After an agreement, local government dropped the charges. However, further steps failed and the dispute remains.

You can find more detailed information and illustrative diagrams in the full report:

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