More reform needed to protect activists, reporters: HRW

By SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER

YANGON — Myanmar’s new government needs to take bold action to dismantle a number of repressive laws during the next session of parliament, a new report from Human Rights Watch urged on Wednesday.

Despite a wide-ranging executive pardon that saw the release of scores of political prisoners in April and some preliminary legislative changes, the New York-based rights group said that a number of laws that remained on the books left the possibility of future prosecutions against activists and reporters.

“The new government, led by the National League for Democracy, has moved quickly to release many of those imprisoned for peaceful expression or protest and to drop charges against others,” said HRW director Brad Adams. “But it’s crucial that the legal infrastructure of repression be dismantled so that there is no chance Burma will ever hold political prisoners again.”

HRW singled out the use of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Act, which has been used to prosecute and imprison hundreds of demonstrators since it was first enacted in 2012. Arrests under the Peaceful Assembly Act have continued into the new government’s term, while rights groups have criticised proposed revisions to the law for retaining criminal punishments in some circumstances. 

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The revised law, currently before the Pyithu Hluttaw, would end requirements for demonstrators to seek advance permission from township police stations and cumulative punishments for unlawful protests across multiple jurisdictions.

HRW legal advisor Linda Lakhdhir told a press conference on Wednesday that a number of the bill’s provisions fell short of international legal standards by retaining broad restrictions on freedom of speech and creating the possibility of legal action against protest leaders for minor infractions of the law. 

The report also called for an end to a number of criminal defamation laws, citing the previous government’s willingness to prosecute journalists reporting on government activities and the jailing of several people last year for social media posts critical of the government and the military.

The Union Parliament is currently in the middle of a month-long recess and will reconvene in mid-July.

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