UN: Myanmar waging ‘campaign against journalists’

Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo, center, is escorted by polices upon arrival at the court Monday, Sept. 3, 2018, in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP/Thein Zaw)
Updated 11 September 2018
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UN: Myanmar waging ‘campaign against journalists’

  • The rights office pointed to the “particularly outrageous” and high-profile example of the conviction of Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone
  • Around 700,000 of the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority were driven into Bangladesh by a Myanmar army-led crackdown

GENEVA: Myanmar, facing international outrage over the jailing of Reuters journalists for their reporting on a massacre of Rohingya Muslims, is conducting a “political campaign” against independent journalism, the UN said Tuesday.
A fresh report from the UN rights office decried “the instrumentalization of the law and of the courts by the government and military in what constitutes a political campaign against independent journalism.”
It slammed the “failure of the judiciary to uphold the fair trial rights of those targeted.”
The rights office pointed to the “particularly outrageous” and high-profile example of the conviction of Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone, also known as Thet Oo Maung.
Last week, a judge jailed the two — both Myanmar nationals — for seven years under a draconian state secrets act over their reporting of the Rohingya crisis.
Around 700,000 of the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority were driven into Bangladesh by a Myanmar army-led crackdown in August last year.
The UN report said there were many other examples of detentions and prosecutions of journalists and their sources, indicating “wider trends of suppression of freedom of expression.”
According to the report, laws on telecommunications, official secrets, unlawful association, electronic transactions, import-export and aircraft have been used against journalists in a number of cases.
It pointed to one case, where three journalists were arrested in June 2017 after covering a “drug burning” ceremony in connection with the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
The event took place in area under the control of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in northern Shan state.
Even though the journalists were covering events unrelated to the armed conflict, they were charged under the so-called unlawful association act.
The report pointed out that the act is “routinely used to allege that any contact with an ethnic armed group is tantamount to a criminal offense.”
The report said that in Myanmar it has become “impossible for journalists to do their job without fear or favor.”
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned in a statement that the situation was “hardly conducive to a democratic transition” in Myanmar.
She called on authorities in the country to “cease the legal and judicial harassment of journalists and to initiate a review of ill-defined laws that facilitate attacks on the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression.”


How new criminal laws threaten Nepal journalism

A Nepalese roadside vendor reads the news in Kathmandu, Nepal, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. (AP)
Updated 24 September 2018
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How new criminal laws threaten Nepal journalism

  • The codes prohibit publishing private information, including of officials, ban recording without permission and require photographers to obtain permits in order to take pictures and sell and publish them

KATMANDU, Nepal: Journalists in Nepal are demanding changes to new criminal and civil codes they say undermine freedom of speech and expression.
The laws that took effect last month are general codes of conduct that apply to all citizens of Nepal, but press freedom groups say harsher sentences for libel and privacy violations are having a chilling effect on journalists in the small Himalayan country. Here are some details:
WHY THE NEW LAWS CAME ABOUT
Nepal’s new civil and criminal codes are the result of a new constitution adopted in 2015. Nepalese lawmakers had three years to design a set of laws that prescribe how the constitution should be interpreted. The codes cover everything from stipulating the legal age of marriage to enshrining property rights and describe how each civil violation or crime can be punished.
WHY THEY ARE CONTROVERSIAL
The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression. But provisions of the new codes appear to limit these freedoms, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. “Nepal’s new criminal code marks a giant step backward for press freedom,” program coordinator Steven Butler said in a statement. For example, the codes make criticizing the president or members of Parliament criminal acts. The codes also prohibit publishing private information, including of officials, ban recording without permission and require photographers to obtain permits in order to take pictures and sell and publish them. The codes say that authorities can detain suspects for up to 40 days while investigating criminal charges. “Now journalists will be first detained and treated like murder suspects even before they are tried or given a chance to clarify,” said Ramesh Bistra, general secretary of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, which has vowed to fight for the codes to be amended. The codes also ban satire, which in Nepal has been a prominent feature in the press and a popular form of protest throughout the country’s changing forms of government — from monarchy to autocratic rule to constitutional monarchy to the republic established in 2007.
CHILLING EFFECT
Press freedom groups say the language of the laws is broad enough to be used as a tool to attack journalists and deter them from doing their work. The four sections on privacy and defamation decree sentences of up to three years in prison and $260 in fines. Previously, journalists could be fined up to $217 for libel. “These new laws have created an environment of fear for the journalists and more and more of them are now practicing self-censorship,” said Taranath Dahal, who heads the Freedom Forum, a Nepal-based media rights group.
GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE
In response to journalists’ protests, the Nepalese government has formed a committee to recommend changes to the codes’ language. This committee, with representatives from several media rights groups and unions, has been given 45 days to come up with recommendations. The government, however, is not obliged to follow them. Even if the government accepts the changes, lawmakers would have to draft amendments, which would then have to be debated in Parliament before changes could be made. This could take months if not years in Nepal. Until then, the controversial new codes remain in effect.