CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 June 2018

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Freedom of expression curbed in Myanmar

MANDALAY (UCAN): Civic groups in Myanmar have warned that amendments to laws governing demonstrations could be used to curb freedom of expression in the country.
 
Thet Swe Win, an interfaith advocate and director of the Centre for Youth and Social Harmony, said that the language used in the amendments to the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Act was not in line with democratic values.
 
He complained that local authorities would be able to order arrests on security grounds and added that neither the government of Aung San Suu Kyi nor the parliament properly discussed the legal changes with rights groups.
 
Win expressed concern that Suu Kyi’s incumbent National League for Democracy (NLD) could itself become authoritarian.
 
Changes to the 2011 protest law provide for three-year jail terms for undermining security or “moral interests of the people” through financial support or otherwise.
 
The amended law would require demonstration organisers to reveal budget details and funding sources.
 
On March 5, hundreds of people took to the streets of former capital, Yangon, to protest the amendments and about 190 civic groups have signed a petition against them.
 
Aung Myo Min, director of Equality Myanmar, a Yangon-based non-government organisation, acknowledged that the government’s aim was to guard against ultra-nationalist unrest as well as religious or racial violence.
 
However, he said the wording of the amendments was so far-reaching that local authorities could use them to arrest peaceful protesters.
 
Min said that the government should not fear legitimate criticism that, if heeded, could only make it stronger.
 
Suu Kyi’s administration has backed the amendments despite the outcry.
 
But some of NLD members of parliament objected to the new measures when they were debated in the Upper House on March 5.
 
Hla Hla Soe, an NLD Upper House lawmaker, agreed that the wording of the amendments could be used to curtail legitimate dissent. “Freedoms of assembly and expression are fundamental human rights,” he said.
 
NLD spokesperson Nyan Win could not be reached for comment.

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