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Breakthrough for press freedom as Burma set to repeal Emergency Law

Members of parliament attend a meeting at the lower house of Burma's parliament in Naypyidaw, 10 March 2016
Members of parliament attend a meeting at the lower house of Burma's parliament in Naypyidaw, 10 March 2016

REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo

This statement was originally published on ifj.org on 29 August 2016.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South East Asia Journalist Unions (SEAJU) welcome a new bill put forward by the Myanmar government to repeal the draconian Emergency Provisions Act (1950). The IFJ and SEAJU urge the government to continue to support freedom of expression and free speech in Myanmar.

On Monday, August 1, 2016, a new bill was put forward to the lower house of Myanmar's Parliament, which would repeal the controversial Emergency Provisions Act (1950). The bill was drafted and put forward by the Lower House Bill Committee, with Committee chair, Tun Tun Hein arguing that the bill was used by previously governments to stifle political dissent and thus should be abolished. According to reports, Hein said: "It is not safe for citizens as long as this act exists. We therefore propose annulling the act for the sake of public security."

The Emergency Provisions Act (1950) was originally enacted under Myanmar's first Prime Minister, U Nu, in response to the civil war that started after the country's independence. The Act bans content that would "affect the morality or conduct of the public or a group of people in a way that would undermine the security of the Union or the restoration of law and order." ARTICLE 19 noted that the Act was one of the most frequently used laws, with journalists, media workers, human rights defenders, trade unionists and activists facing lengthy prison terms, when they were convicted under the Act. The act was largely used silence critics and dissent, particularly against the government.

SEAJU said: "We welcome the steps taken by the new Myanmar government to support freedom of expression across the country. Our colleagues in Myanmar have long being operating in an environment of fear and intimidation at the hands of the authorities and government who have attempted to control and stifle the press. We are hopeful that this is a step in the right direction of Myanmar's press freedom."

The IFJ said: "The Emergency Provisions Act has long being used as a tool of repression, stifling freedom of expression and free speech in Myanmar. We, along with SEAJU, support the actions of the government to repeal the act, in a set to secure freedom of expression in Myanmar. Journalists and the media in Myanmar have faced a number of challenges in recent years, but steps such as these will start to change to environment of fear and repression."

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