Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression

In October 2018, Athan released a mid-term report on freedom of expression under the new government in co-operation with the Southeast Asian Press Alliance. The report documents incidents of violations of the freedom of expression, freedom of press and the right to peaceful assembly supported by individual case studies. It is based on findings from original research as well as statistics compiled by Athan.

The report finds that the contagious and excessive use of article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law started in the run-up to the 2015 elections. The law was then increasingly used to sue criticism and expression on social media. While the law was amended in 2017, following a push by civil society organizations, legal experts and activists. The amendment reduced the number of grounds to file a complaint, reduced the maximum prison term and banned third party plaintiffs from filing. However, the amendment remained superficial and fell short of CSO recommendations.

At the time of the report, Athan was aware of 150 cases filed under the Telecommunications law, of which 11 cases were filed under the previous government, 91 were filed under the NLD-led government before and 48 cases after the amendment.

Athan analyzed the cases’ contents in order to see if the Telecommunications Law impeded free expression and found that 54% of cases pertained to freedom of expression issues while around 50% of the cases were filed in Yangon Region.

Beyond the Telecommunications Law, the report also covers: the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens, passed March 8th 2017; prior scrutiny of songs played during Thingyan celebrations in Yangon; Social Media monitoring by the government; the case of a student being charged with allegedly organizing an education dialogue; young Karenni being charged for their protest against the erection of a statue of General Aung San in 2018; bans and lawsuits against several assemblies including interfaith prayer assemblies and poetry recitals; the charges of Dr. Aye Maung and Way Hin Aung with state defamation and high treason; the charges following the offensive criticism of State Councilor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi by a pro-military former columnist; an activist being sued for defamation after criticizing their verdict; and human rights lawyer Dr. Khin Khin Kyaw, who defended students who had been protesting for educational reform, and Ko Than Htike being charged themselves after they had publicly protested a procedural decision of the court.

The report is available here.