We thank the Special Rapporteur for her update and regret that the Myanmar government has continued to deny her access to the country.
We remain disturbed by accounts of ongoing gross human rights violations in Myanmar and are concerned by the government’s sustained attacks on freedom of expression.
Restrictions on journalists’ access to conflict areas, including in Rakhine State, stymie access to information both in and outside the country and impede efforts to hold perpetrators accountable.
We are deeply concerned that journalists, and those who assist them, continue to face charges for reporting on government actions or other sensitive matters. We continued to call for the reform or repeal of the repressive laws used to target these individuals, including the Unlawful Associations Act, Official Secrets Act, the Telecommunications Law and various Penal Code provisions.
Two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, face up to 14 years in prison for their role in uncovering a massacre of civilians by the Myanmar Army in Rakhine State. The two journalists have spent six months in pre-trial detention for their investigative work even though the authorities have acknowledged the massacre and taken action against Army officers who were involved. On 2 July, a court in Yangon will decide whether to formally charge Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under the Official Secrets Act.
Last weekend, three journalists from national outlet Myanmar Now were arrested and detained while attempting to report on the alleged recruitment of a child soldier by the army. Military officials have threatened to file charges against the journalists under the Official Secrets Act.
We urge the government to guarantee access to Rakhine State and other conflict areas by journalists and rights monitors, unconditionally release all those detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and reform or repeal repressive laws that stifle independent reporting, public debate and the voicing of diverse opinions.
While continuing to arrest and detain journalists, the government has additionally sought to scapegoat and discredit the media by accusing journalists of misrepresenting the ongoing conflict in Rakhine State. We regret the government’s routine dismissal of credible reports of egregious human rights violations and all other efforts to avoid scrutiny and accountability.
We further regret attempts by the State Counsellor to blame the spread of intolerance and discriminatory rhetoric on ‘hate narratives’ from abroad. We recall the recommendations set out in HRC Resolution 16/18 to combat intolerance and incitement to violence, and call on public officials to cease inflaming tensions and promoting discriminatory rhetoric.
The government should urgently implement positive measures to promote tolerance, inclusion and respect for diversity, and tackle the root causes of egregious rights violations, in particular in Rakhine State. In this regard, we remain concerned that proposed legislation to counter hate speech would, counter to its stated purpose, enable further persecution of minority groups and dissenting voices.
Finally, we urge the government to work constructively with the Special Rapporteur and other human rights mechanisms to improve protections for human rights in Myanmar and to hold accountable those responsible for violating human rights, including the right to freedom of expression.