Stories from Quick Reads and Myanmar (Burma)
The new United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, has concluded a visit in the country and issued an initial report about Myanmar's human rights situation:
The opening up of democratic space for people to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to freedom of assembly and association is widely acknowledged as one significant achievement in Myanmar’s continuing reform process. Yet, in recent months many of my interlocutors have seen the shrinking of that space for civil society and the media.
There are also continuing reports of the excessive use of force by the police and the authorities in breaking up protests.
Yanghee Lee also expressed concern about the “spread of hate speech and incitement to violence, discrimination and hostility in the media and on the Internet, which have fuelled and triggered further violence” against minority ethnic groups and Muslims.
The Special Rapporteur stressed that Myanmar “needs further encouragement and understanding in order to address these challenges and to continue on the path of reform.”
Aung Zaw of The Irrawaddy compares and contrasts the Thai junta and the military-backed govenrment of Myanmar:
The Thai army has carried out more than a dozen coups in past decades, but always relinquished power to a civilian government after a number of years.
The Burma Army staged two coups, one in 1962 and one in 1988, and ruled the country for more than half a century
Today, many Burmese still feel that the country is under control of military men and ex-generals in the government and Parliament—in spite of the “sweeping reforms” celebrated by Western governments.
The Irrawaddy underscored the continuing difficulties experienced by Myanmar journalists despite the reforms implemented by the government
…despite the ostensible changes in the way the government treats the media, the underlying mindset is much the same as in the past: Journalists have been given greater “space” within which to work, but the limits of that space are still decided by the state.
Writing for The Dissident Blog, James Byrne reviews the status of Burmese literature in the post-dictatorship era in Myanmar:
When I was in the country last year there were poems being read about the Arab Spring. There were others about the harsh treatment of Burmese farmers. There were satires about power cuts and short stories that had a beginning and middle, but no end. All of these would have been instantly banned just a few years previously.
He also observed the following challenge that needs to be addressed:
If you probe deeper and talk to many of the writers inside the country suspicion of the government and Western cultural organisations remains.
The website of Myanmar's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology was hacked on Friday morning, July 4, 2014. The hackers replaced two government seals with turtles alluding to the country's slow internet connection. The hacking also coincided with the Facebook blocking which many people believe was done by the government to prevent the spread of hate speech after violent riots erupted in the city of Mandalay.
The government was able to fix the website in the afternoon.
Deji Olukotun observes how Myanmar's so-called transition to democracy has not yet made a lasting impact on the state of free expression in the country:
…in many ways Myanmar’s relatively open society could close at a moment’s notice. Writers are able to write and to criticize the government not because the laws have been changed, but because they are frequently not enforced. Many civil society organizations in the country are unable to register because the old registration laws are too complex, the bureaucratic red tape too thick, and pending legislation intended to streamline the process remains tied up in parliament.
Myanmar's Ministry of Education and the Open Society Foundation have teamed up to establish the country's first digital library. Oleksandr Shtokvych, Senior Manager at the Open Society Foundations’ Higher Education Support Programme, explained the importance of the project:
It will also mean including their students and scholars (of the University of Yangon and the University of Mandalay) as active participants in the production of new knowledge and critical thinking, and bringing the unique and rich legacy and current developments in Myanmar into the limelight of international scholarship.
Tomás Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, concluded his mission by assessing the country's democratic transition:
For the time being, the military retains a prevailing role in the life and institutions of Myanmar. State institutions in general remain unaccountable and the judiciary is not yet functioning as an independent branch of Government. Moreover, the rule of law cannot yet be said to exist in Myanmar.
He also talked aboout the challenges facing the media sector:
I met journalists who described a prevailing climate of uncertainty and fear of arrest, particularly if reporting dealt with issues too close to the interests of the military or other powerful elites.