Myanmar’s Kayah State Orders Defamation Measures Against Critics

Offenses include speaking ill of the government in public talk, writings, images, and posters.

Myanmar’s Kayah State Orders Defamation Measures Against Critics

Authorities in eastern Myanmar’s Kayah state have announced an order demanding criminal charges against anyone who defames government officials, effectively criminalizing criticism in a move that rights advocates say will deal a new blow to freedom of expression in the multiethnic emerging democracy.

The Township Administration Department in the state capital Loikaw issued the order on May 3, advising Kayah state residents to refrain from activities or statements that could defame the ruling government.

Kayah is the only state or regional government to have issued such an order.

The order listed 10 examples of defamatory speech, including speaking ill of the government in wards and villages with or without the use of loudspeakers and using writings, images, posters, vinyl sheets or symbols that could defame the government.

The announcement said that the order is intended for the benefit of the people and that violators would be prosecuted under existing laws.

Rights activists warned that the order contains vaguely defined terms that will allow the state government to interpret them to suit its own needs and ultimately harm freedom of expression.

Myanmar’s 2008 constitution, drafted by a military junta that previously ran the country, guarantees freedom of expression, though critics argue that those guarantees do not fully meet international standards in this area.

Aung Myo Min, director of Equality Myanmar, a human rights education group, said that some terms in the order are very broad and subject to biased interpretations.

“For example, the order doesn’t provide an accurate definition of defamatory speeches against state and government organizations, so it’s open to the interpretation of the prosecutors, who may bring excessive charges” against accused violator, he said.

“I am concerned that it will affect the free press and freedom of expression,” he added.

In Myanmar, the penalty for criminal defamation is imprisonment for up to two years, a fine, or both.

Myanmar has seen a surge in arrests of peaceful critics of the military and government officials at the national and regional levels under State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, who has lead the country since 2016.

Among those targeted have been satirical performers, political activists, and journalists, reflecting a rapid decline in freedom of expression under the civilian-led National League for Democracy (NLD) government.

‘A form of persecution’

Activist Dee De, a member of the Karenni State Farmers Union and one of the founders of the Union of Karenni State Youth, called the order an unacceptable form of persecution coming at a time when government should be seeking cooperation with local citizens.

“It shows the dishonesty of the ruling government,” he told RFA. “It is a form of persecution.”

“We are now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that affects everyone,” he added. “They issued this order during a time when they should be working to protect people. This is not suitable. ”

Dee De supported the NLD during the 2015 general election and took part in providing Aung San Suu Kyi’s security detail during her campaign trip to Kayah state, according to a June 2019 commentary he wrote for the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute.

He was arrested in 2017 and spent two months in jail for his involvement in protests against arbitrary killings by the Myanmar military. He was arrested again in June 2019 for campaigning for the removal of a controversial statue of General Aung San — Myanmar’s revered independence hero and Aung San Suu Kyi’s father — from a public park in Loikaw.

Ethnic Karennis in the state opposed the monument because Aung San came from the ethnic Bamar (Burman) majority that dominates the country, and because they believed that the current government should focus on achieving equal rights for them.

L Phaung Sho, chief minister of Kayah state, declined to comment on the new order, except to say that it was issued in line with the state government’s administrative policy.

Reported by Nay Myo Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Myanmar Political Parties Want Say on 2020 Election Timing Amid Coronavirus Fight

The plan to hold the vote in November, as in 2010 and 2015, is questioned by those who fear that the COVID-19 pandemic will persist.

Myanmar Political Parties Want Say on 2020 Election Timing Amid Coronavirus Fight

Political parties in Myanmar have urged the Union Election Commission to consult them on whether to postpone the country’s 2020 general election due to the coronavirus pandemic, party officials said Tuesday.

Their call came after election commissioner Myint Naing told state-run radio that the commission would hold the election this year as planned, according to a post on the commission’s Facebook page on Monday.

The UEC is responsible for organizing and overseeing elections, and vetting parliamentary candidates and political parties in Myanmar.

The exact date of the election has yet to be announced, but the commission has said the 2020 vote will be held in November, as it was in 2010 and 2015, despite concerns by the political parties that Myanmar should focus first on controlling the spread of the virus.

UEC members have de-emphasized concerns that the COVID-9 pandemic could force the rescheduling of the vote and have noted that South Korea managed to hold a general election in April amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Others argue that Myanmar is not as developed as South Korea and does not have the same resources to control the spread of the virus.

As of Tuesday, Myanmar reported 161 confirmed cases of the virus and six deaths.

“In this period of the coronavirus pandemic, all political parties and other concerned organizations should decide whether the general elections should be held instead of the Union Election Commission deciding on its own,” said Ye Naing Aung, general secretary of the Peoples’ Party.

Thein Tun Oo, spokesman and central committee member of the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), agreed that the UEC should not have sole decision-making authority.

“In this period of facing the virus pandemic, the Union Election Commission alone should not decide whether the election should be held or not,” he said. “It’s a decision for all. We should decide only after negotiations with all political parties and concerned organizations.”

‘Low voter turnout’

Sai Leik, a spokesman for the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), said concerns over the virus may keep voters away from the polls.

“During the pandemic, people are facing difficulties, so there could be low public interest in the election,” he said.

Sai Leik also said that the current armed conflict in parts of western Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states would make it difficult to hold elections there.

“Everyone knows that armed struggles are becoming bigger in Rakhine, Chin, and other places, so it won’t be possible to hold elections at the same time,” he said. “We need to be able to end the armed conflicts first.”

Sai Ye Kyaw Swar Myint, executive director of the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections, cautioned that the COVID-19 outbreak would prevent the coordination necessary for holding the general election.

“There would be very low voter turnout for the election,” he said, adding that the current crisis will pose problems for election preparations and management.

“All the political parties will not be able to conduct election campaigns, and there will be unfairness,” he said. “There will be questions raised concerning the standards of the election.”

About 100 political parties are expected to contest the 2020 election, according to the online journal The Irrawaddy.

Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Maung Maung Nyo. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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