Summary of the current Situation
Despite President Thein Sein’s promise to release all political prisoners by the end of 2013, many individuals remain behind bars and the government continues to arrest and incarcerate new political prisoners. By the end of July, there were 70 political prisoners incarcerated in Burma, with approximately 114 accused activists awaiting trial.
Since the beginning of 2014, the number of politically motivated arrests and incarcerations has been steadily increasing, indicating a regression in the democratic progress Burma has received recognition for in the last few years. In particular, the month of July witnessed a backsliding of basic individual freedoms, particularly those pertaining to the rights of media professionals. With old draconian laws still being used to prosecute journalists instead of new laws being implemented and reformed to protect the rights of journalists, authorities are indicating their resistance to further democratic reforms.
MONTH IN REVIEW
Throughout the month of July, AAPP documented the arrest of 11 activists, sentencing of 21 activists, and the release of 2 political prisoners. Of the eleven arrested activists, two were freed. These numbers indicate that the government’s trend of incarcerating political prisoners continues.
This month saw a number of arrests and incarcerations made by Burmese authorities for media related cases. Despite Parliament recently passing the New Media Law, the government has clamped down on the activities and freedoms of media professionals. On July 10, 2014, five employees of Unity Journal were sentenced to ten years hard labor for publishing an article in January about an alleged secret weapons factory. The sentence has sparked both international and domestic political criticism. International actors, particularly the governments of the United States and United Kingdom, Amnesty International, and Reporters Sans Frontiers, have criticized the government for the recent regression from Burma’s democratic progress. They have argued that the responses of the authorities to media related problems are pushing Burma back into an undesirable position with the rest of the world. Burma’s four press associations also issued a joint statement in response to the sentencing, comparing the actions of the current regime to the former military regime. Moreover, the decision was also met by opposition within parliament, most notably by Parliamentary Speaker Thura Shwe Man, who asked Thein Sein to consider a reduction of the sentence.
In addition to the harsh sentences handed down to the Unity Journalists, authorities indicted eight employees of the Bi Mon Te Nay Journal for publishing an article quoting the MDCF’s statement that Aung San Suu Kyi had been elected president of an interim government. Five individuals were indicted on July 8, 2014, under the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act. On July 16, 2014, three more individuals, including the journal’s owner and his wife, were arrested in Mae Sot for avoiding their court summon the previous week. Authorities, who also confiscated documents and items from the journal’s office, stated they are concerned about the article defaming the government, creating misunderstandings among readers, undermining the stability of the state, and damaging public interests. Despite mistranslations by some media outlets, the journal did not take an individual, personal stance on the claim regarding the interim government. The article simply quoted the MDCF in their statements and actions during the protest. The accused have argued that they were doing their job in providing information to citizens regarding local events. The individuals are being prosecuted under Articles 5(d) and 5(j) of the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, and if found guilty, the individuals could face up to fourteen years in prison.
(8 July 2014 – Irrawaddy) (8 July 2014 – DVB) (8 July 2014 – New Light of Myanmar) (8 July 2014 – Bi Mon Te Nay Facebook Page) (11 July 2014 – Mizzima) (19 July 2014 – DVB) (21 July 2014 – Irrawaddy) (22 June 2014 – Eleven) (23 July 2014 – DVB) (23 July 2014 – Irrawaddy) (10 July 2014 – Irrawaddy) (10 July 2014 – DVB) (10 July 2014 – Al Jazeera) (21 July 2014 – Irrawaddy) (22 July 2014 – DVB)
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