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Update on Myanmar

 

2018 XpA Scores:
Freedom of Expression – 0.31 Civic Space – 0.27
Digital – 0.27 Media – 0.33
Protection – 0.19 Transparency – 0.38

 

The Expression Agenda 17/18 Report reported that Myanmar security forces had perpetrated a campaign of violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine State, which the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’.

In 2018, an intensifying campaign of censorship arose in Myanmar, with government attempts to evade accountability for crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Rohingya Muslim population of the Rakhine State in 2017. Seeking to blame the Rohingya for the crisis, the government carried out a campaign of misinformation, and restricted access to conflict areas for journalists and human rights monitors.[1]

The UN fact-finding mission found there had been violence against minority groups, amounting to genocide and crimes and humanity, with the military primarily responsible. State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi was also criticised for her failure to use her authority to protect the civilian population, and Facebook for its failure to respond effectively to the use of its platform to spread discrimination and hate speech. The UN was also strongly criticised for having prioritised development and diplomatic goals over a principled response to unfolding atrocities.

Restrictions on fundamental freedoms in the country gave rise to, and perpetuated, grave abuses. The UN fact-finding mission criticised, in particular, the government’s own contribution to dehumanising narratives and silencing critical voices.[2]

The two Reuters journalists who had reported on the crisis in the Rakhine State were imprisoned, with numerous appeals rejected; others continue to be imprisoned for more traditional offences, like revealing corruption.[3]

The environment for dissent has continued to deteriorate. In January, police opened fire on protesters in Rakhine State, killing at least seven. Five protesters were given prison sentences for offences under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act, and a further three were charged weeks later for protesting against these sentences.[4] More were detained during a protest to raise awareness of the plight of the internally displaced in May, which the police broke up, despite protesters having given prior notice.[5]

While the XpA showed improvements in Myanmar’s scores after the end of military rule, it seems the country’s autocratic culture survived the regime change; the tactics Myanmar’s current government uses are concerningly familiar.

 

 

[1] ARTICLE 19, HRC 40: Priorities to Protect Free Expression, 21 February 2019, available at https://www.article19.org/resources/hrc-40-priorities-to-protect-free-expression/

[2] ARTICLE 19, Myanmar: International Community Must Act to Support Accountability and Human Rights, 28 August 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/blog/resources/myanmar-international-community-must-act-to-support-accountability-and-human-rights/

[3] Moe Myint, ‘Yangon govt sues eleven media for offenses against the state’, The Irawaddy, 10 October 2018, available at https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/yangon-govt-sues-eleven-media-offenses-state.html

[4] ARTICLE 19, Myanmar: HRC Must Address Deteriorating Environment for Free Expression, 23 February 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/blog/resources/myanmar-hrc-must-address-deteriorating-environment-free-expression/

[5] Evan Erickson, ‘Yangon police squash unsanctioned peace march in Tamwe’, Mizzima, 13 May 2018, available at http://www.mizzima.com/news-domestic/yangon-police-squash-unsanctioned-peace-march-tamwe

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