Steps in the right direc­tion

Mizzima Business Weekly - - EDITORIAL -

It was heart­en­ing to see the ef­forts of sev­eral me­dia and CSO groups last week to help sup­port former po­lit­i­cal prison­ers. A num­ber of me­dia groups and CSOs stepped up to the plate, with sup­port from USAID and FHI360, to of­fer six month fel­low­ships to a to­tal of 50 out of 152 former po­lit­i­cal prison­ers who ap­plied to give them hands on ex­pe­ri­ence and work ex­po­sure to help in their re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. Mizzima Me­dia Group ac­cepted five for the fel­low­ship.

What is cru­cial to un­der­stand about peo­ple who have been im­pris­oned for their po­lit­i­cal be­liefs or ac­tions is that when they are freed typ­i­cally their strug­gle con­tin­ues. Of­ten it is hard to find a job or re­turn to the life they left be­fore they were im­pris­oned. In a num­ber of cases there are the un­seen men­tal scars of poor treat­ment while in­car­cer­ated.

This proac­tive pro­gramme to reach out to former po­lit­i­cal prison­ers should be lauded and sup­ported. So­ci­ety as a whole should make ef­forts to wel­come former prison­ers back into the fold and sup­port them in their tran­si­tion back into nor­mal life.

But we should not for­get those po­lit­i­cal prison­ers who are still in­car­cer­ated or await­ing trial.

Ac­cord­ing to the NGO As­sis­tance As­so­ci­a­tion for Po­lit­i­cal Prison­ers, there are still dozens cur­rently serv­ing prison sen­tences and dozens await­ing trial ei­ther in prison or on bail for pur­su­ing “po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties” in one form or an­other. The cur­rent Myan­mar gov­ern­ment faces the legacy of a host of laws – some go­ing back to colo­nial times – that through en­force­ment have led to peo­ple get­ting locked up for ac­tiv­i­ties that ought to be a right in a free so­ci­ety. Th­ese in­clude the Peace­ful As­sem­bly and Peace­ful Pro­ces­sion Act, the Un­law­ful As­so­ci­a­tions Act, Sec­tion 66(d) of the 2013 Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Law, and oth­ers.

What is dis­turb­ing is that the Na­tional League for Democ­racy-led gov­ern­ment un­der the lead­er­ship of State Coun­sel­lor Aung San Suu Kyi has been slow to deal with th­ese ju­di­cial mat­ters – de­spite sev­eral mem­bers of the NLD party hav­ing pre­vi­ously im­pris­oned them­selves for “po­lit­i­cal crimes”.

If there is a glim­mer of hope on the hori­zon it may lay in what ap­pears to be an in­creased will­ing­ness by the gov­ern­ment to con­sider go­ing through the process of amend­ing the con­tro­ver­sial laws. Suu Kyi re­cently said in a news con­fer­ence when pressed that the leg­is­la­ture is con­sid­er­ing amend­ments to Sec­tion 66(d) of the Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Law. But if changes are in the off­ing, they only ap­pear to tinker with the law, not axe it, pos­si­bly al­low­ing judges to re­lease peo­ple on bail. Some politi­cians are said to op­pose changes to the law, which they de­fend as a tool for curb­ing hate speech and false news as in­ter­net ac­cess ex­pands in Myan­mar.

Ev­ery ef­fort needs to be made by Myan­mar so­ci­ety to re­mind the gov­ern­ment that what the ma­jor­ity voted for at the last elec­tion was democ­racy and change, not a con­tin­u­a­tion of a sti­fling at­mos­phere that smoth­ers peo­ple’s free­dom and leaves peo­ple in fear.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Myanmar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.