Govt avoiding public scrutiny, says new PEN Myanmar chair


YANGON — The National League for Democracy government needs to do more to allow public scrutiny of its actions, the new chair of PEN Myanmar has said, following the group’s third anniversary celebration on Saturday.

Respected editor and former political prisoner U Myo Myint Nyein, who spent more than a decade behind bars after penning an anti-junta poem in 1990, was voted to lead the international writers’ advocacy group during a board election on the weekend.

The one-time NLD information officer marked the occasion by urging the government to grant more freedom to journalists, pointing to restrictions on reporters investigating the crackdown in Rakhine and ongoing conflict in Kachin.

“If the government gave rights to the media to verify its information, we could have corrected the international view with credible evidence,” he said, adding that the government’s own statements on the conflicts had failed to convince its critics.

Support more independent journalism like this. Sign up to be a Frontier member.

Authorities have prevented most journalists from travelling to Maungdaw District after a series of coordinated attacks on police posts in October.

Rights groups and refugees have reported a number of human rights abuses in the ensuing crackdown, which has left at least 69 dead. The government has denied the allegations, insisting that security forces are conducting themselves responsibly.


Myo Myint Nyein, who is now working as chief editor of the Info Digest journal, said that journalists also had a responsibility to avoid censoring themselves when reporting on matters that cast the government in a bad light.

He added that some journalists felt pressured to avoid damaging the government’s standing because of its popularity and the risk of censure from political leaders, including State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

“The real situation here is that even if people want to criticise Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s words, they hesitate and stop because she has such full support from the public,” he said.

U Han Zaw, also an editor at the Info Digest journal who was elected PEN Myanmar’s secretary, told Saturday’s audience that the Telecommunications Law was a barrier to freedom of expression and needed urgent amendment.

Since the NLD government took office at the end of March, the 2013 law has been used dozens of times to prosecute the authors of social media posts deemed critical of the military and the NLD.

In November, police arrested Eleven Media Group chief executive U Than Htut Aung and chief editor U Wai Phyo over a column which implied Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein had corruptly accepted a $100,000 watch from a property developer with an interest in the controversial Southwest New City development.

Founded in 1921, PEN International operates in 145 countries across the world to foster links between writers and promote freedom of expression.

Myo Myint Nyein takes over the PEN Myanmar chairmanship from Ma Thida Sanchaung, a fellow former political prisoner who helped establish the local chapter of the organisation in 2013.

More stories

Latest Issue

Stories in this issue
Myanmar enters 2021 with more friends than foes
The early delivery of vaccines is one of the many boons of the country’s geopolitics, but to really take advantage, Myanmar must bury the legacy of its isolationist past.
Will the Kayin BGF go quietly?
The Kayin State Border Guard Force has come under intense pressure from the Tatmadaw over its extensive, controversial business interests and there’s concern the ultimatum could trigger fresh hostilities in one of the country’s most war-torn areas.

Support our independent journalism and get exclusive behind-the-scenes content and analysis

Stay on top of Myanmar current affairs with our Daily Briefing and Media Monitor newsletters.

Sign up for our Frontier Fridays newsletter. It’s a free weekly round-up featuring the most important events shaping Myanmar