Myanmar mulls change in law seen as violating free speech

08 July 2017
Myanmar mulls change in law seen as violating free speech
Kyaw Min Swe (C), editor-in-chief of The Voice Daily newspaper, followed by columnist Kyaw Swa Naing (C-R) arrive at the Bahan township court during their first trial in Yangon, Myanmar, 08 June 2017. Photo: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

Myanmar is considering amendments to a law that human rights monitors say violates free speech and has been used to jail journalists and activists, leader Aung San Suu Kyi said this week. 
Following a recent spate of arrests of reporters, the United States and the European Union have raised concern that despite Myanmar electing its first civilian government in about half a century, its media face increasing curbs.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) has a majority in parliament - and many of its lawmakers are former political prisoners - but the party has not until now prioritized repealing laws that previous governments used to quash dissent.
"About 66(d), the legislature is considering amendments to that particular law," Suu Kyi told a news conference, referring to a broadly worded clause of the Telecommunications Law that prohibits use of the telecoms network to "extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb, inappropriately influence or intimidate."
Suu Kyi did not say what changes were planned, but Myanmar officials have indicated that the law may be changed to enable judges to release on bail those charged under the law, diplomats have told Reuters.
Some Senior NLD members oppose changes to the law, which they defend as a tool for curbing hate speech and false news as Internet access expands in Myanmar.
Suu Kyi's defenders say the Nobel Peace Prize winner - who spent years under house arrest for opposing army rule - is hamstrung by a military-drafted constitution that keeps the generals in politics and free from civilian oversight.
Last month, three journalists covering an event organized by an ethnic minority rebel group, that authorities have designated an "illegal organization", were detained by the military and later arrested on suspicion of breaching a colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act.
A newspaper editor is also on trial under the telecoms law over a satirical article making fun of the military.
The cases have sparked outrage among the boisterous media community that has emerged in the commercial hub Yangon since the government lifted pre-publication censorship in 2012.
Courtesy of Global Times