Amid an uptick of legal cases involving the press, the Southern Myanmar Journalists Network this week launched a campaign to support freedom of expression.
On July 27, journalist members of the network distributed pamphlets in Mawlamyine to promote public awareness about journalists detained under laws that have been called “draconian” and “repressive” by international watchdog groups. The pamphlets also detail how oppressing the media can place obstacles on democracy.
“Journalists in Myanmar have been threatened and sued under oppressive laws. This is a threat against us, the journalists. We are campaigning to protect our rights,” said Ko Kyaw Soe, coordinator of the Southern Myanmar Journalists Network.He added that section 17(1) of the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act, and section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, which criminalizes online defamation, cause a daily challenge for the media.
Since the National League for Democracy-led government took office in 2015, the Telecommunications Law and the Unlawful Association Act have been levied against journalists. Two journalists from DVB and one from the Irrawaddy were arrested last month following a reporting trip to cover a drug elimination event in Shan State held by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army.
“I’m participating in the campaign [to demand] amendments to laws hindering the journalists’ right to freedom of expression,” said U Kyi Aye, a reporter from the Mon State-based Than Lwin Times.
In the last year and half under the NLD-led administration, 14 journalists have been charged with Section 66 (d) and 3 journalists have been charged with Section 17 (1).