The government of Myanmar led by Aung San Suu Kyi has overseen mass arrests, intimidation and harassment of human rights activists since coming to power in 2015, according to a new Amnesty report.
The London-based rights organisation has called the authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience” and repeal the country’s military-era laws that are stopping activists from expressing their opinion.
Clare Algar, Senior Director for Research, Advocacy & Policy said in a press release: “Four years after Aung San Suu Kyi came to power, Myanmar remains a country where the slightest criticism of the authorities can land you in jail.”
“After campaigning for human rights for decades and paying a high price for their own activism, it is shocking that Aung San Suu Kyi and her colleagues have done so little to change military-era laws that are still being used to repress and punish critics.”
The report reveals the cases of 16 civil society activists and human rights defenders who have been arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned in the last 18 months. They include students, journalists, activists, satirical performers and a Buddhist monk – spanning across nine states and regions.
Myanmar civil society group, Athan estimates that a minimum of 331 people were prosecuted in freedom of expression-related cases in 2019 alone.
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In March, five students were imprisoned for protesting against government-ordered internet shutdowns in Rakhine and Chin states. Despite the ban hindering citizens’ access to important information on COVID-19, it remains in place.
According to Amnesty, many of the complainants of free speech were from military officers, who used the country’s repressive laws to bring charges to those who criticised members of the armed forces. The Myanmar military, also known as the Tatmadaw has faced international scrutiny over atrocities it committed to the majority Muslim Rohingya population from 2017.
“The Tatmadaw’s continuing power and influence in Myanmar is not in doubt,” said Algar, “but there are serious questions about the civilian government’s willingness to make reforms, respect human rights and protect people from repression, harassment and arbitrary arrests.”
“Without genuine and meaningful reforms, more people will be harassed, intimidated and sent to jail simply for speaking their minds – especially if they highlight injustice, abusive laws, or war crimes and other human rights violations committed by the Tatmadaw.”