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Election laws rampant with free expression violations

The Burmese military government has announced its plans to hold elections for the first time in 20 years on 7 November 2010, six days before Aung San Suu Kyi's current house arrest comes to an end. But the junta simply plans to reinforce its military rule with an illegitimate election, say Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19. Both IFEX members are calling on the international community and the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to pressure the junta to release 2,000 political prisoners and repeal Internet censorship and all regulations of the media that interfere with freedom of expression.

A regime-backed political militia has become the main civilian front party for the dictatorship, reports the Burma Campaign UK in Mizzima News. The prime minister, Gen. Thein Sein, and more than 20 senior generals resigned from the armed forces and registered with the new pro-government Union Solidarity and Development Party to contest the elections.

"No one should be fooled. The generals may be exchanging their khakis for civilian clothes, but these polls are still a carefully arranged plan to keep power in the hands of the military junta," said Human Rights Watch.

The rights group is concerned that intimidation of the population and some political parties will increase. Laws and regulations governing the elections limit public gatherings to five people and make public criticism of the election process punishable under law. There are severe restrictions on media coverage of the elections, with the Press Scrutiny Board censoring Burmese journalists. Foreign journalists are also routinely denied access to Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), have decided not to take part in the elections. In February, she said she was unwilling to engage in the election process because the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of information and freedom of association are consistently denied to Burmese citizens.

ARTICLE 19 has outlined its concerns around the deeply flawed elections and violations of free expression in the country in a Submission to the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review, due to be held in January 2011.

The Submission highlights the complete censorship of the press, broadcast media and Internet by the government and the use of harassment and arbitrary arrests of journalists, media workers and others who exercise their right to freedom of expression, including ARTICLE 19's honorary member Aung San Suu Kyi.

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