The fi­nal bar­ri­ers to free­dom

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Jaiden Coonan

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

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