PRESS RELEASE (6/2016)

PRESS RELEASE (6/2016) 15 November 2016 YANGON, MYANMAR

PEN Myanmar calls on the Union Parliament to amend Section 66-d of the 2013 Telecommunications Law and questions whether the News Media Council has adequate authority to resolve complaints

1.It is clear that in Myanmar’s post state-censorship era the state has been using its power – and legal sanctions -to curtail citizens’ free expression, freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly. As a result, citizens are forced to practice self-censorship. To achieve these ends,the government, the military, some media themselves and the public most often wield Section 66-d of the 2013 Telecommunication Law.

2.Between October 2013, when the law was passed by the former USDP government, and the end of its term in office, there were seven (7) court cases related to Section 66-d and 5 people were imprisoned. Since April 2016 (when the NLD took office) there have been 29 court cases involving human rights defenders, activists, media, journalists and regular citizens. As this is deemed a cognizable offence, the accused are detained as soon as cases are filed. The law permits even third party prosecution.

3.Section 66-d is vaguely defined and so can be interpreted in different ways. Moreover, the offence under that law is deemed as cognizable offence. Authorities, organisations and individuals use the law to silence opposing views and critics.  Despite the fact that the 2014 News Media Law and News Media Council are meant to resolve complaints, section 66-d has been used to detainjournalists and media personnel immediately.

4.The News Media Council is mandated to protect journalists and media personnel, and to foster media ethics. Yet does the News Media law give it adequate authority and ability to resolve cases? With reference to the military and 7 Day Daily newspaper case, the Council tried to resolve the conflict. In the end, though, the newspaper published an apology, even though it had done nothing wrong.

5.The Council has a questionable mandate and authority due to Chapter–6 (the establishment of the Media Council in the 2014 News Media Law). It is under the partial influence of the Ministry of Information and the government.  The members of the Council were not elected in a free and fair election with the full participation of the media community. Chapter (11), section (35 a) of the bylaw states that while a person can file a complaint to the Council, it is not obligatory; this means that he/she can sue the media worker without involving the Council.

6.Laws should protect citizens. PEN Myanmar is deeply concerned that they are being used to silence critics and curtail free expression, freedom of opinion and free speech.

7.PEN Myanmar urges the Union Parliament to amend or abolish the 2013 Telecommunication Law, particularly section 66-d, and the 2014 News Media Law, in accordance with international standard consultation with CSOs, CBOs and the public.

PEN Myanmar Center

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