Chair Jonathan Tait discusses the alarming repercussions of repressive laws under the democratic party of Myanmar led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s contributions to the establishment of democracy throughout Burma and now Myanmar were and remain to be tremendous, and the subsequent prizes and adulations that she and her government have won are truly deserved. However, her past deeds of good will towards the maintenance of human rights does not privilege her with an exemption from current matters of similar ilk.
Assuming a democratically elected leadership with the NLD party, in a country formerly impinged by an autocratic and unelected regime, Aung San Suu Kyi represented a watershed moment for Myanmar. The real progress made towards becoming a democratic and modern nation was marked and legitimised with various awards and praise throughout the 1990s through to the present. Yet whatever progress Suu Kyi’s administration has achieved through a paradigm shift is rapidly becoming unstuck by maintaining the legacies of Myanmar’s militant predecessors.
The Guardian recently reported that those who are speaking out against her government have not only been subjected to imprisonment, but these numbers have recently soared. In collaboration with PEN Myanmar it has been reported that there have been 38 arrests throughout Myanmar against citizens who are vocalizing the failures and critiquing the limitations of Suu Kyi and her influence. The irony in this matter is profound; considering that the persecution of near forty people has been conducted under the influence of a law established by an unelected military government preceding Suu Kyi’s establishment’s accession to power via election. Article 66D of the Telecommunications Act stipulates that anyone who utilizes a “telecommunication network to extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb inappropriately influence or intimidate,” is liable to be “punished with imprisonment for a term extending to a maximum of three years, and shall be liable to fine or both.” The applications of this law are widespread including personal correspondence throughout messaging services and emails, extending as far as the posts on personal social media profiles. Critique must be couched without slurs against the government, profanity, or mention of the personal affairs of the incumbent administrations.
The remit of electronic privacy is tantamount to discussions of human rights and free speech throughout the world currently, particularly with the nascent stages of the Investigatory Powers Bill being enacted throughout Britain. And while the Snooper’s Charter with all its limitations does perhaps not go as far as the infringing of free speech in Suu Kyi’s Myanmar it remains an interesting and terrifying allegory in which the collection, storage, and analysis of our personal data becomes a means to pursue the maintenance of an unchallenged premiership. After all, it is a principal and integral construct of democracy, one caught up in its etymological definition of democracy that it requires a forum for the voices of the people to make their own minds up about the current state of affairs.
The irony which underpins Suu Kyi’s agenda here is astounding. The double edged sword of democracy swings against Aung San Suu Kyi’s institutions for as the Nobel Peace Prize worthy establishment of democracy instead of military rule in Myanmar has given forth anxieties of being unseated by the will of the people. The co-option of a significantly limiting military law geared towards silencing voices of critique under the auspices of democracy contravenes everything Aung San Suu Kyi has strove to achieve.