A new draft law has been slammed for retaining a series of restrictive provisions, including a ban on printing material that “violates” the country’s military-backed constitution, and imposing prison sentences of up to six months.
The new law is set replace the notorious 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act, which was commonly used to silence dissent in Burma under the former military junta. The law required all publications to register with and submit copies to the censorship board – the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) — which was formally abolished in January.
However, the new draft legislation also prohibits the publication of various topics, including material that could “disturb the rule of law”, “incite unrest”, or “violates the constitution and other existing laws”. It also requires all publications to register with the government or risk spending six months in jail and paying a 10 million kyat (US$11,621) fine.
However, many arbitrary laws remain in place and continue to be used to silence critics. Broadcasting rights remain exclusively in the hands of the state, which precludes exiled media groups from formally returning from Burma.
A growing number of peaceful protestors have also been arrested and sentenced to jail for “inciting unrest”, while others have been prosecuted under Burma’s criminal defamation laws.
Five political leaders from the Mandalay-based People’s Democracy Party have been held in detention in Kachin state since October last year for printing corruption allegations against the state government in their bi-monthly newsletter.
The latest string of restrictions, especially regarding the controversial 2008 constitution, which guarantees the military 25 percent of seats in parliament, could threaten the rights of ethnic minorities and pro-democracy campaigners.