Myanmar & COVID-19

Myanmar’s Kayah State Angers Activists with Protest Ban

By Zue Zue 7 May 2020

Yangon — Kayah State activists have complained that a set of orders recently issued by the state government infringe upon human rights and democratic norms.

The state government on Sunday told residents in all seven townships — Bawlakhe, Demoso, Hpasawng, Hpruso, Loikaw, Mese and Shadaw — that legal action would be taken against violators, sparking condemnation from civil society organizations and political activists.

The orders ban speeches, writing, pictures, posters, placards, pamphlets and anything deemed to be defamatory to the authorities. The rules prohibit making “misleading”, provocative and mobilizing statements.

The state government “abused its power to prohibit freedom of expression”, said Khun Thomas, joint secretary of the Union of Karenni State Youth.

“We oppose them and would like to ask the government to revoke these orders that violate human rights,” he added.

“We have fundamental rights. If they continue to restrict our rights by abusing their authority, we will not be able to work collaboratively,” said Khun Thomas.

The order was issued after a protest was filed with the Loikaw Township administration department against a private project in Konetha village-tract. Residents hung posters reading, “There is no vacant, fallow and virgin land in our area” on their houses, according to villagers.

The orders also ban trespassing on land that the government has the authority to manage.

Kayah State analyst Ko Kyaw Htin Aung, who is based in the state capital Loikaw, said the orders contradict fundamental rights enshrined in the 2008 Constitution.

“The orders have nothing to do with COVID-19. The government should not have issued them,” he said. The orders are a significant departure from State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s promises ahead of the 2015 general election that a government must accept criticism and be monitored by citizens, Ko Kyaw Htin Aung added.

He called the orders a threat from the state government against possible criticism. Ko Kyaw Htin Aung also accused the state government of overstepping its authority with its COVID-19 measures.

Lower House lawmaker of Hpruso Township Pe Du said: “I don’t think the orders are extreme. My view is that they are just pointing out what they think is wrong with the state government’s order.”

Since the first coronavirus cases were reported in Myanmar in late March, Kayah State has not confirmed any cases with two people with symptoms being quarantined at a hospital in Loikaw.

The state government has extended COVID-19 orders until May 15.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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