Set back ten years
Set back ten years
When the military junta disbanded itself in February 2011, after half a century in power, Myanmar’s journalists hoped they would never again have to fear arrest or imprisonment for criticising the government or military. And the many reforms adopted in the ensuing years enabled Myanmar to rise 20 places in the World Press Freedom Index between 2013 and 2017. The coup d’état of 1 February 2021 brought that fragile progress to an abrupt end and set Myanmar’s journalists back ten years. They again face systematic arrest campaigns and censorship, and many will resign themselves to working clandestinely in order to be free to report what is happening and to evade the police. This coup was not a complete surprise inasmuch as the climate for press freedom had already been worsening again during the past three years. The biggest blow was the arrest in 2018 of two Reuters reporters who had been investigating a massacre of Rohingya civilians. They were finally pardoned after more than 500 days in prison, but their conviction on the basis of fabricated evidence and bogus criminal proceedings served as a warning to all journalists to think twice before attempting investigative reporting that could upset either the civilian government or “Tatmadaw,” as the armed forces are known. A number of media outlets – including Mawkun Magazine, news sites such as Myanmar Now, DVB and Mizzima, and BBC Burmese – had nonetheless been producing promising investigative journalism. Unfortunately, their audience was limited in size and, in general, the economic model of the privately-owned media was extremely fragile. Aside from its readiness to act in an arbitrary manner, in which they show little restraint, the military has a diabolically effective tool for intimidating or silencing journalists in the form of article 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Act, which criminalises online defamation and which can be used to imprison a journalist for three years if someone disputes what they have written.
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140in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index
139 in 2020
44.77 in 2020