October 21, 2017

Hluttaw mulls change to law seen as violating free speech

State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi addresses the media at a press conference yesterday in Nay Pyi Taw. Photo: Aung Shine Oo

Parliament is considering amendments to a law that human rights monitors say violates free speech and has been used to jail journalists and activists, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said yesterday.
Following a recent spate of arrests of reporters, the United States and the European Union have raised concern that despite Myanmar electing its first civilian government in about half a century, its media face increasing curbs.
“About 66(d), the legislature is considering amendments to that particular law,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said at a news conference, referring to a broadly worded clause of the Telecommunications Law that prohibits use of the telecoms network to “extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb, inappropriately influence or intimidate”.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did not say what changes were planned, but Myanmar officials have indicated that the law may be changed to enable judges to release on bail those charged under the law, diplomats have told Reuters.
Last month, three journalists covering an event organised by an ethnic minority rebel group that authorities have designated an “illegal organisation” were detained by the military and later arrested on suspicion of breaching a colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act.
A newspaper editor is also on trial under the telecoms law over a satirical article making fun of the military.
The cases have sparked outrage among the media community in Yangon since the government lifted pre-publication censorship in 2012.
They have also prompted statements of concern from both the European Union and the United States.
When asked about the case of the three arrested reporters, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said it was “not for us to comment on … how the various cases should be tried in the court – that’s for the justice sector to take care of”.
“This should not be seen very narrowly as three journalists against the army or vice versa, but in general, as to whether the existing laws are in line with our desire for justice and democratisation,” she said.
The three journalists are due to appear in court in Shan State on 11 July. They face up to three years in prison.—Reuters/Antoni Slodkowski

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