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NLD hammered for lack of progress on freedom of expression

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Myanmar
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DVB
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Rights groups on Tuesday released a joint report giving the ruling National League for Democracy government abysmal marks on matters related to press freedom and free expression over the party’s first year in power.

Fourteen media freedom and rights groups including PEN Myanmar, the Myanmar Journalist Association, Burma News International (BNI) and Pyi Gyi Khin released their “scorecard” on the eve of World Press Freedom Day. Assessing improvements to the free expression environment across six areas, the NLD was given a score of 8 out of a maximum 60 points.

A press conference to launch the report was held at the PEN Myanmar office in Rangoon.

“Under the current government, there have been over 60 individuals sued under article 66[d] of the Telecommunications Law, which sets the record on oppression of freedom of expression — this is even worse than back under the President Thein Sein government,” BNI’s Zin Linn told DVB.

The scorecard found that there was “a significant shortfall in free expression reform” over the past year.

“The government has the power to promote media freedom and freedom of expression, but it hasn’t made it a priority,” one participant of a discussion on the issues held last month was quoted as saying.

“When people are punished for criticising the NLD, no one dares speak up for them,” said another.

The six areas in which scores were given included “safety and security,” the country’s legal framework, digital freedom and the right to information. The scorecard also offered a series of recommendations for how to improve the environment for freedom of expression, among them abolition of the Telecommunications Law’s article 66(d). Prosecutions under the controversial provision, which covers online defamation, have soared under the NLD government.

PEN Myanmar and partners previously released a “mid-term” report card at the six-month mark of the NLD’s term in office, in which it also gave the government a score of 8 out of 60.

At Tuesday’s press conference, PEN Myanmar announced its intention to compile similar report cards on freedom of expression in Burma annually.

Last week Burma climbed 12 places in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, but the rise in rank was largely due to a deterioration in media freedoms globally over the past year.