Myanmar Free Speech Activist Wins Dutch Human Rights Award

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 11 December 2018

YANGON — Myanmar free speech activist Maung Saung Kha has won the Human Rights Tulip award from the Netherlands, becoming the first person bestowed with the honor in the country.

The Human Rights Tulip is an annual prize awarded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to a person or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to defending human rights worldwide. This year, Dutch embassies across the world bestowed country-specific Tulip awards to local human rights defenders.

The Dutch Embassy in Yangon says the award is intended to encourage and inspire a new generation of human rights advocates.

Maung Saung Kha, the founder and executive director of Yangon-based freedom of expression advocacy group Athan, will receive the Human Rights Tulip Myanmar 2018 in Yangon on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old said he welcomed the award an international recognition for his group.

“I was awarded not just because of me but me and Athan. Plus, were it not for the support of democracy and human rights activists, we wouldn’t have kept our freedom of expression movement alive,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Founded in January, Athan is one of only a few advocacy groups focusing on freedom of expression in Myanmar.

From the beginning, the group has put a spotlight on issues challenging freedom of expression in Myanmar, such as the controversial Telecommunication Law and Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law. It also carefully documents cases posing a threat to freedom of expression in the country while lobbying lawmakers and educating the public about the importance of free speech.

Freedom of expression and assembly in Myanmar are currently perceived by many as on the decline. As of Tuesday, according to Athan, the country has two journalists in jail, 164 cases in the courts under Article 66 (d) of the Telecommunication Law, and 51 peace activists on trial.

Maung Saung Kha said he used to believe that there would be more freedom of expression under a government led by the National League for Democracy.

“Seeing people brought to trial for criticizing government activities shows that it hasn’t lived up to our hope,” he said.

The poet-cum-activist was arrested himself under Article 66 (d) in 2015 for posting a verse on social media with a risqué rhyme about an unnamed president.

“I felt very bad because I was arrested for writing a poem,” he said. “It’s partly because I am now seriously involved in promoting freedom of expression as I don’t want others to see a fate like mine.”