Nine months after it seized power in a coup, Myanmar’s military government continues to suppress press freedom in the country by amending the telecommunications law earlier this week, experts and rights activists said on Friday.
The new amendment to the Law on Television and Broadcasting includes lengthy prison sentences for violators instead of merely fines.
The original law, enacted in 2015 to promote media development, states that regulations governing the use of the internet do not apply to television and radio broadcasts. Legal experts told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the amended law omits this clause and adds the phrase “use of any technology” to include internet broadcasting.
Additionally, violations are now punishable with sentences of up to five years in prison.
The head of the military, junta chief Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, has amended or added new provisions to 63 laws since taking control of the country.
For months authorities have charged members of the press under the Defamation and Unlawful Association Acts for expressing views critical of the regime. They have also revoked the licenses of private media outlets deemed insufficiently supportive of the new government.
Veteran journalist Myint Kyaw said the amendments represent a further constriction of press freedoms under the junta.
“This is a new threat to those media outlets posting content online, especially video and radio broadcasts,” he said.
Since the February 01 coup, security forces have killed 1,242 civilians and arrested at least 7,038, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners — mostly during crackdowns on anti-junta protests.
The junta claims it unseated the National League for Democracy government because the party had engineered a landslide victory in Myanmar’s November 2020 election through widespread voter fraud. It has yet to present evidence backing up the allegation, and protests against the new regime continue.
Journalists in Myanmar say the military has targeted the media for shining a light on human rights abuses by documenting state-directed crackdowns and killings of anti-junta activists.
So far, authorities have suspended the licenses of nine private media outlets, including Myanmar Now, Mizzima, 7-Day News, DVB, the 74 Media, Delta News Agency, Yangon Modern Media, the Myitkyina News Journal and the Tachileik News Agency.
When asked for comment on the amendment by RFA, junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said that while the media is commonly referred to the fourth pillar of democracy, laws must be amended to remain effective and to prevent a lack of accountability.
“Our goal is for the law to provide effective remedies,” he said. “Effective treatment must be provided for both the perpetrator and the victim.
Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia representative for New York-based media watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists, slammed the military for curtailing press freedom in Myanmar.
“I think the military junta is deliberately trying to roll back press freedom to stifle and censor news reporting of their rising abuses, including the killing of over 1,000 anti-coup dissidents since the coup,” he said in an email to RFA.
He called developments under the junta a “sharp and bitter reversal” of the press freedom achievements made in Myanmar in recent decades.
The junta has arrested 103 journalists, including US and Japanese reporters, in the nine months since the coup and 32 remain behind bars.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders ranked Myanmar 140th out of 180 countries and regions in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index, down from 139th a year earlier.
February’s coup had brought an end to reforms adopted under civilian leadership and set the nation’s journalists back a decade, the group said. (Source: RFA)