“They can arrest you at any time”: the criminalization of peaceful expression in Burma

Freedom of speech Freedom of information Freedom of the press Censorship Myanmar

The past five years have been a time of liberalization and change in Burma. The abolition of prior censorship and a loosening of licensing requirements has led to a vibrant press, and the shift from formal military rule has emboldened civil society.

The change has not been without conflict, however, and, under President Thein Sein, those who embraced the new freedoms to vocally criticize the government or military too often found themselves arrested and in prison. The backlash against critics was facilitated by a range of overly broad and vaguely worded laws that violate internationally protected rights to expression and peaceful assembly, some dating from the British colonial era, some enacted under successive military juntas, and others the products of reform efforts, or ostensible reform efforts, by the Thein Sein government.

This report examines how Burmese governments have used and abused these laws and the ways in which the laws themselves fall far short of international standards. It sets forth a series of concrete recommendations to the new Burmese government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), aimed at dismantling the inherited legal infrastructure of repression.

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