Journalists stage a protest to demand the release of two Reuters journalists who were arrested under a secrecy law that carries a sentence of up to 14 years in jail. Photo: AFP/Thihla Lwin

Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution may guarantee press freedom and freedom of expression, but draconian defamation laws have replaced the censorship that prevailed under the junta, which was in power until a general election in 2010.

Myanmar’s heavily criticized Telecommunications Law was amended in 2017, after the National League for Democracy (NLD) had formed a new government, to ban a third party from filing a case unless the individual has been granted legal power to do so.

According to a June 19 report on the website The Irrawaddy, prior to the amendments, many individuals prosecuted under the law were accused of defaming national leaders such as then-president Thein Sein and commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, despite the fact that those men had not personally filed the cases.

But the most controversial provision of the Telecommunications Law, Article 66 (d), which keeps criminal defamation on the books, has not been repealed. According to Myanmar press freedom advocates, even after last year’s amendments, 27 cases had been filed under Article 66 (d) as of June 5.

Most cases were filed by nationalist Buddhist monks, while other cases involved government officials and political leaders. Free Expression Burma, a press-freedom advocacy group, stated in a recent report that “journalists believe that legal, physical and psychological violence toward them has increased and that there is little evidence that the government courts are trying to address either violence of the decline in media freedom.”

Journalists also concluded that their freedom to report in conflict areas had declined. On average, journalists believe that they have less freedom compared with one year ago and that the overall level of freedom of expression in the country has declined as well.

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