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14-20 Janunary: Burma Continues to Repress Critical Voices

January 21, 2013

According to Freedom House’s annual global survey on political rights and civil liberties released this week, Burma is still rated as “Not Free.” A “Not Free” country is one where basic political rights are absent, and basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied.

This could come as a surprise after the reforms that President Thein Sein and his government have started implementing but as Freedom House explains freedoms of expression and association improved in the last two years “but they depend more on current government policy than on deep institutional changes.”

One of the noticeable areas of reform is freedom of information. Thein Sein released bloggers and journalists, ended pre-publication censorship, and authorized the publication of privately-owned dailies. Regrettably, as explained in a report released this week by Reporters Without Borders, “as things stand, the possibility of the reforms being perverted cannot be ruled out.” The Press Scrutiny and Registration Division is still in place and can suspend any weekly that publishes “forbidden” content, there is no law providing protection to media and journalists, the old oppressive laws remain unamended and privately owned weeklies have been facing legal proceedings.

Self-censorship is widespread. “[Journalists have] tried to publish articles critical of the authorities but quickly discovered that the government’s red lines had not retreated as much as they had imagined,” says the Reporters Without Borders report. The “red lines” were apparently crossed this week as the Union Parliament passed a motion to investigate a dissident blogger, known as Dr. Seik Phwa, who criticized the legislature for acting “above the law” on the Internet. In the article the blogger challenged the legislature’s decision to grant itself greater powers over the election of the constitutional tribunal judges.

Another illustration of the continuous violations of people’s fundamental freedom that occurred this week is the sentencing to one month in prison of Aung Hmine San, Than Htike, Min Naing Lwin, and Thein Aung Myint, four activists who demonstrated against the controversial Letpadaung copper mine near Monywa.

The activists were charged under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, which bars public gathering without official permission. This new law, warmly welcomed by the international community and considered to be a sign of progress and further guarantees of peoples’ freedoms, has actually been consistently used as a tool to persecute and arrest dissidents.

This week’s two reports warned that people in Burma are still not enjoying their civil and political rights, one blogger is being investigated by the Parliament for criticizing it and four activists received jail sentences for peacefully demonstrating. This is a normal week in Burma for any voices critical of the government illustrating the serious limits to Thein Sein’s reform process. We call on the government of Burma to fully respect people’s fundamental freedoms and on the National Human Rights Commission to thoroughly and independently investigate these human rights abuses. The international community must continue to pressure the current administration until citizens can fully exercise their freedoms without fear, risk of arrest and harassment. We must all ensure that self-censorship will not replace State censorship in Burma.

News Highlights

The government announces a unilateral ceasefire in Kachin State beginning on 19 January but airstrikes and ground fighting continue near Laiza and Lajayang

Kachin MP urges the Lower House of Parliament to form a peace mediation team to end conflict in Kachin State

Inside Burma

The government plans to unveil its 3-year reform plan to donor governments and organizations

The Parliament’s Rule of Law Committee has received more than 3,000 complaints in the five months since its formation

The United Nationalities Federal Council will send teams to meet with civil society groups in ethnic areas in preparation for potential political talks with the government

Landmine clearance program in Pegu Region is delayed due to the leadership reshuffle within the Karen National Union

The National Human Rights Commission says that human rights will be added to the basic education curriculum

UN census experts meet this week to begin preparations for the 2014 Population and Housing census

Burma launches major new oil tender for 18 offshore blocks

The government will borrow a total of more than US$900 million from China, India and Japan in the coming fiscal year and requests a one-year IMF-monitored program to help it pursue economic reforms and clear its debt arrears

Regional

China calls for an “immediate end” to fighting in Kachin State after a Burma Army artillery shell lands in its territory

Karenni refugees say they want to go home but “don’t trust the government”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees is granted access to Rohingyas in Thailand

Singapore and Burma plan to strengthen military cooperation

International

Burma and the US hold preliminary nuclear non-proliferation talks

UK Foreign Office Minister calls for “an immediate cessation of hostilities” in Kachin State

UN envoy to Burma, Vijay Nambiar, calls on all parties in the country to work to ease tensions, resume dialogue, and ensure humanitarian access in Kachin and Arakan States

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross arrives in Burma to set up inspections of prisons, seeks access to conflict-affected border areas and meets with President Thein Sein

Opinion

Thein Sein a Man of War, Not Peace
By Nancy Hudson-Rodd
Asia Times

How Feudal Imperialism Continues to Destroy the Union of Burma
By Maung Zarni
Democratic Voice of Burma

Latest from the Blog

Burma Must End Offensives and Dialogue with Ethnic Armed Groups for a National Political Settlement
By Burma Partnership

Actions

TAKE ACTION! Sign a petition to Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr to condemn the Burma Army’s attacks on civilians in Kachin State

TAKE ACTION! Email British Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire to ask him to take action to secure the immediate release of the Letpadaung copper mine protesters Aung Hmine San, Than Htike, Min Naing Lwin and Thein Aung Myint

Dozens of people rally in Rangoon to demand for an investigation and compensation, nineteen years after being forced out of their homes by local authorities

Statements and Press Releases

Urgent Call on ASEAN to Help Halt Intensifying Conflict in Kachin State in Burma
By 66 organizations

Myanmar: Protect Civilians Caught in the Kachin State Conflict, Investigate Attacks
By Amnesty International

Myanmar: Respect Appeal of Deceased Phyo Wai Aung to Have His Name Cleared
By Asian Human Rights Commission

Kachin Deaths A War Crime – Thousands More In Danger
By Burma Campaign UK

A Protest Law With Genuine Rights and Freedom is Needed in Burma
By Burma Campaign UK

January Political Prisoners of the Month Have Been Released
By Burma Campaign UK

CFOB Concerned with Kachin Conflicts in Northern Burma
By Canadian Friends of Burma

CSW Calls For International Action to Pressure Burmese Government to Stop Attacks in Kachin State
By Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Burma: Halt Indiscriminate Attacks in Kachin State
By Human Rights Watch

Statement of Kachin Independence Organization
By Kachin Independence Organization

Press Release on the Ceasefire Announcement at the Laja Yang by the Burmese Government on 18th January 2013
By Kachin National Organization

Groups Call for Investigation into Burma Army’s War Crimes in Laiza
By Kachin organizations and civil society groups

How Long Will the Burmese Media Spring Last?
By Reporters Without Borders

Reports

Freedom in the World 2013: Burma
By Freedom House

Burmese Media Spring
By Reporters Without Borders

This post is in: Weekly Highlights