Myanmar’s parliament amended the 2013 Telecommunications Law [text, PDF] on Friday amidst growing concerns regarding the freedom of expression. The new law permits [Reuters report] judges to release people on bail, allows only those directly affected, or with permission from those directly affected, by the offense to press charges, and reduces the maximum prison sentence to two years. However, many in opposition of the law say that the amendments do little to reduce the restrictions on speech. Clause 66(d) of the law prohibits the “extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening to any person by using any Telecommunications Network.” Under this clause, journalists have been arrested, such as activist Maung Daung Kha who was imprisoned for six months for defamation. According to Kha, “freedom of expression is still being threatened as long as clause 66(d) exists.” In June human rights groups released a joint statement [press release] declaring that the law was being used “to stifle criticism of the authorities” and urging authorities to repeal the law due to its vagueness. However, members of the Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy say that the law reduces hate speech and false news. According to the advocacy group Research Term for the law, 17 journalists have been charged or arrested since last year.
Human rights violations have been on the forefront of Myanmar’s new democratic government since ending a decades-old military rule. In July the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement [JURIST report] voicing concern over the worsening human rights situation in Myanmar. In February Myanmar officials promised to investigate [JURIST report] whether police have committed crimes against Rohingya Muslims. In June a UN expert presented [JURIST report] a report on religious, free market, political, and nationalist or cultural fundamentalism, stating that fundamentalist intolerance is growing throughout the globe and is directly contributing to infringements of the rights to association and peaceful assembly. In April, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed [JURIST report] shock at the increasing number of children recruited and killed in armed conflicts in several countries; the government of Myanmar alone released [JURIST report] 46 underage child recruits from the military in March as part of a UN join action plan made in 2012. In May Human Rights Watch urged [JURIST report] the Myanmar Parliament to reconsider a proposed law that they say has the advocacy organization says has the potential to limit free expression and peaceful assembly. Also in May US Secretary of State John Kerry offered support to Myanmar’s newly democratic government and urged [JURIST report] the country to push more democratic reform and address human rights issues.