New Govt Urged to Protect Freedom of Expression

By The Irrawaddy 4 December 2015

RANGOON — Freedom of expression has declined in Burma over the past two years, according to a new report by the PEN American Center, which urged the incoming government to cement steps to safeguard rights.

“Unfinished Freedom: A Blueprint for the Future of Free Expression in Myanmar,” published on Friday, said that violations related to freedoms of the media, assembly and digital rights have steadily risen since 2013, despite improvements made since the start of Burma’s reform process.

The report highlights a number of weak protections, restrictive laws and intrusive bureaucratic structures—including prosecution and physical attacks on journalists, the arrest of Facebook users and the current government’s failure to contain religious hate speech.

PEN urged the new government, which is set to assume power early next year, to protect and expand the space of free expression.

“The legal and regulatory framework must be strengthened, with repressive laws that criminalized speech and association either abolished or reformed to meet international standards,” the report read.

“Given the particular challenges of dealing with dangerous speech in the context of rising Buddhist extremism and ongoing conflicts in Myanmar’s ethnic states, the new government also needs to adopt an affirmative agenda to promote tolerance and healthy speech, fostering dialogue across societal lines and enabling a diversity of voices to flourish, especially in ethnic languages.”