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Hope Dims in Myanmar, With Press at Risk

A rally for press freedom in Yangon, Myanmar, in June. CreditThein Zaw/Associated Press

There were high hopes when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party delivered a crushing electoral blow to Myanmar’s decades-long military dictatorship. But the ensuing year and a half has provided cause for dismay as well as for hope.

The army’s brutal repression of the Muslim Rohingya minority has only intensified, with quiet acceptance from Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. Ethnic conflicts have increased in the face of her tepid attempts at conciliation.

The military’s continued dominance of the country, despite her party’s control of Parliament, restricts her ability to move the country forward. But, while Myanmar is much freer since the end of military rule, her acquiescence to repressive measures against free expression is another indication that she is part of the problem.

The government has brought 65 cases against people who posted on social media under amilitary-era law that criminalizes defamation. Swe Win, the award-winning editor of the news site Myanmar Now, is facing trial under the law for comments he posted on Facebook critical of the firebrand Buddhist priest, U Wirathu. Myanmar’s military is using the law to prosecute U Kyaw Min Swe, editor of the newspaper The Voice, for a satirical article mocking a military propaganda film.

The government is also silencing by criminalizing journalism. Three journalists on a reporting mission to the conflict-ridden Shan State, were arrested in June under a colonial-era law for “unlawful association” with Shan rebels. The three have been denied confidential access to lawyers, and are being tried under a media blackout.

Myanmar’s Parliament reformed the country’s draconian online defamation law last week, allowing people facing charges to be released on bail and barring third parties from bringing defamation charges that do not directly concern them. But this is tinkering around the edges of a law that should simply be scrapped.

Despite the considerable power of the military, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi needs to do and say more to support a truly free Myanmar. Protecting journalists and their work is a fundamental part of her job as Myanmar’s first democratic leader in decades.


(c) 2017 The New York Times

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