Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Alters Draft of Hate Speech Law

By Pe Thet Htet Khin 3 April 2017

NAYPYIDAW — Burma’s State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is adding her own provisions to a draft law combating hate speech, according to the Union Minister for Religious Affairs and Culture Thura U Aung Ko.

The State Counselor has asked other democracies around the world for advice on crafting the legislation, said the minister, who expects to put the draft before lawmakers this year.

“I’ve learned that the State Counselor’s Office and the information ministry are adding additional provisions to the fourth draft,” Thura U Aung Ko told The Irrawaddy in Naypyidaw. “She has received feedback and suggestions from the international community.”

The law will criminalize hate speech and allow police to take legal action against anyone who spreads such speech, however the definition of hate speech in the draft legislation remains unclear.

The Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, popularly known by the Burmese language acronym Ma Ba Tha, has been criticized for targeting the Muslim community online.

Thura U Aung Ko said the majority of monks in Ma Ba Tha “have moral and intellectual virtues” and “only a small number preach religious hate speech”.

Incendiary rhetoric regarding race and religion has become more common among Burma’s netizens since an influx of internet access and a lifting of barriers to free speech, according to the No-Hate Speech Project, a Rangoon-based hate speech monitoring body funded by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).

The third draft of the legislation states that publishing books, broadcasting or streaming videos, and spreading vitriol online that is deemed to incite religious hatred is punishable by a maximum of three years’ imprisonment.

Rangoon divisional parliament lawmaker U Nay Phone Latt has warned of the dangers of people misusing the law for their own personal vendettas.

“The law should only be used to criminalize speech that causes conflict and trouble in our society,” said U Nay Phone Latt, who organized the Pan Sagar (flower speech) campaign in 2014 that encouraged social media users to change their profile pictures in support of refraining from hate speech.

Religious leaders and the Myanmar Interfaith Friendship Group formulated an initial draft of the anti-hate speech law before the draft was developed with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture.

U Nay Phone Latt told The Irrawaddy that passing a cyber law which included anti-hate speech provisions would have been better than creating a separate law fighting hate speech.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.