Freedom of expression is severely threatened in Myanmar. The right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and various other international legal instruments, is key to human development and dignity as well as the enjoyment of all other rights protected by international law. It is necessary for good governance and democracy, and essential in advancing Myanmar’s fulfilment of its human rights obligations.
For decades, a key factor inhibiting freedom of expression in Myanmar has been the routine criminal proceedings brought against those exercising their right to freedom of expression. Several laws that criminalise speech and go beyond the restrictions that are permitted under international law remain in effect and have been used against journalists, activists, human rights defenders and individuals voicing opinions critical of the state.
This briefing paper sets forth priorities for reforming the laws that criminalise free expression in Myanmar, including:
- Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law
- Articles 33 and 34(d) of the Electronic Transactions Law
- The Unlawful Associations Act of 1908
- The Official Secrets Act of 1923
- The Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law
- Penal Code sections 124A (sedition), 295A (insulting religion), 499-500 (defamation) and 505 (incitement)
Although this briefing focuses on the provisions in these laws that criminalise free expression, it does not address problems relating to the enforcement, lack of judicial oversight, and procedural ambiguity in applying the laws, which also impede freedom of expression. The government of Myanmar should repeal or amend these laws in order to bring Myanmar’s legal framework in line with international human rights law and standards relating to freedom of expression.