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Freedom of Expression in Myanmar

CLD has been working in Myanmar since 2012. Our work in Myanmar sought to support the democratisation process occurring at that time. It involved support to the Ministry of Information and a range of key official and civil society stakeholders in preparing legislation and policy documents relating to various freedom of expression themes. CLD worked extensively on the broadcast law, digital content restrictions and proposed right to information legislation.

In February 2021, Myanmar’s military took over the country in a coup. The nature of our work has accordingly changed significantly, but we continue to be engaged in Myanmar. For updated publications from us related to Myanmar, please see our new Myanmar Resource Page

Biometric Digital ID Systems and Human Rights

This Human Rights Analysis of Digital ID Systems, available in English and Burmese, examines the human rights concerns raised by biometric digital ID systems. In response to proposals for such a system in Myanmar, it identifies potential human rights risks and makes recommendations for avoiding those harms. In addition to reviewing developments on this issue in Myanmar, it provides comparative examples of countries where courts have limited biometric digital ID systems.

Recent Legal Developments Impacting Freedom of Expression

A Note released by CLD in November 2020 highlighted a number of recent legal developments impacting freedom of expression that were proposed or adopted in 2020. The first part focuses on legal developments linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, while the second looks at wider issues.

Community Broadcasting

In December 2019, CLD held a workshop with Protection Committee for Myanmar Journalists and Myanmar Press Freedom Center, with support from IMS and FOJO Media INstitute. The workshop provided an opportunity to discuss legal standards for community broadcasting and highlighted the need for the adoption of implementing By-laws to the 2015 Broadcasting Law.

Note on the Archives Law

CLD released a Note on the draft National Records and Archives Law introduced in 2019, including recommendations for revising it to better align with international standards.

Media Law Reform Discussions

In January 2019, CLD held two roundtable meetings with members of the Myanmar Press Council to discuss forming the 2014 News Media Law so as to bring it into line with international standards. A Note prepared by CLD on Reforming Myanmar’s News Media Law and Printing and Publishing Enterprises Law served as a basis for the discussions.

Right to Information

In April 2018, CLD analyzed of the latest proposed Right to Information (RTI) Law reveals a relatively robust draft but with some shortcomings. The RTI Law, which will allow citizens to obtain information from public bodies, is key in any democracy, enhancing government accountability and improving trust between government and the people.

Reform on Freedom of Expression Online

Leading civil society groups, media lawyers from around the country and international experts met on 27 January 2018 to discuss proposals to reform laws which restrict freedom of expression online. Over the last few years more than 100 cases, mostly for defamation, have been brought under these laws, involving journalists, political actors and human rights defenders. The aim of the workshop was to agree on media reform proposals that will limit abusive cases and support Myanmar’s transition to democracy.

Digital Security for Journalists

In December 2017, CLD participated in the launch of The Digital Security Guide for Journalists in Yangon. The Guide is a simple, accessible tool to help journalists protect their communications and digital devices against hacking, surveillance and other forms of digital harassment. It was prepared by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) in collaboration with International Media Support (IMS), FOJO Media Institute and the Myanmar Press Council (MPC).

Reform of Digital Content Restriction

In December 2017, the Myanmar Media Lawyers’ Network (MMLN) and the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) organised a workshop with civil society groups and lawyers from across the country on 9 December to discuss reform of laws which restrict freedom of expression online, including the Electronic Transactions Law, Official Secrets Act, Telecommunications Law, News Media Law and certain provisions of the Penal Code. Numerous cases have been brought under these laws, most of which were brought for political purposes.

Freedom of Expression in Broadcasting

On 14 February 2017, UNESCO and the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) held a full-day workshop in the capital of Myanmar, Nay Pyi Taw, for officials from the Government, military and both upper and lower houses of Parliament (Pyithu Hluttaw and Amyotha Hluttaw), as well as the Parliamentary support body, the Commission for the Assessment of Legal Affairs and Special Issues. The focus of the workshop was on international standards relating to the right to information and broadcasting.

Media Freedom and Right to Information

Over the past few days, the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), with support from International Media Support and FOJO Media Institute, hosted a series of workshops with its partners, the Myanmar Media Lawyers’ Network (MMLN), Pyi Gyi Khin (PGK), the Civil Society RTI Technical Working Group and the Myanmar Press Council (MPC). The workshops focused on the right to information and content restrictions in various Myanmar laws. The latter was particularly timely as senior representatives of the Eleven Media Group were taken into custody on allegations of having breached the defamation provisions in the 2013 Telecommunications Law while a CLD sponsored workshop on this was taking place.

Digital Security for Lawyers

In September 2016, CLD held a workshop, which was attended by 45 lawyers, that featured a presentation from Robert Sann Aung, a well-respected human rights defender who has represented defendants charged under the country’s problematic Electronic Transactions Law for statements made online. Yadanar Tun, of the Myanmar ICT Development Organisation, followed with a discussion about digital security, introducing participants to the basics of how to stay safe online.

Right to Know Working Group

In March 2016, civil society representatives from across Myanmar, representing a range of diverse interests, met in Yangon to found the National Right to Information Working Group, with the help of CLD. The Working Group is the result of over a year of advocacy and awareness raising efforts by Pyi Gyi Khin (PGK), a Myanmar-based NGO, and the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), which have worked together over the last year to host workshops across the country to build support for the right to information.

Broadcast Reform

The Myanmar Media Lawyers’ Network (MMLN) and the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) hosted a workshop on 29 November 2015 to discuss changes to the country’s broadcasting framework, and how they will impact freedom of expression in the country. The workshop, which was carried out with support from International Media Support (IMS), featured a robust discussion about the country’s new Broadcasting Law and how it measures up against international standards.