The final barriers to freedom
Big Brother, the moniker coined by George Orwell, is alive and well and very comfortably at home in the fast, changing quasi-democratic landscape of Myanmar. Big Brother doesn’t stand out as much today as he did in the past. He maintains a lower profile and he tries to blend into the astonishing rush – real and imagined – toward democratic values.
But Big Brother is there in the background, still a foe of democracy and freedom of expression.
Behind the astounding opening up of Myanmar over the past five years, he’s largely hidden as a carefully preserved as an intricate web of laws and regulations that were created by the previous military juntas – like a spider’s net – ready to ensnare anyone who falls into its orb.
The anti-democracy laws and regulations cover free speech, free assembly, media freedom, and digital freedom – the newest social environment which has enabled astounding changes to take place at speed.
Myanmar’s transformation from a brutal, totalitarian-ruled country to more benign, quasi-democracy, has taken place as fast or faster than in any country in history.
But Big Brother still has laws and regulations that are among the most repressive in the world. He still watches over people’s shoulders. People are still being swept up at midnight by state intelligence agents on trumped up violations of anti-democratic laws. The press is still cowered and intimidated and media workers are unfairly jailed and harrassed.
Even in the midst of the election
In the election period two Facebook users were detained and face trial under the country’s loose and arbitrarily enforced cyber laws that appear to target those critical towards the government. Yet on the other end those who use hate speech online, whether or not to incite hate crimes, manage to continue unscathed.
The draconian, junta-era laws, remain in place to form a final barrier to the fundamental freedoms that constitute basic international norms, and without which there can be no true democracy.
As the US State Department pointed out, the Com-
Protester with a T-shirt on the International Day to End Impunity, November 2, 2014. Photo: Mizzima