New report: 505A Act of revenge
The Myanmar people have used their right to freedom of expression to reject the military’s 2021 coup. The military’s responded with vengeance, including unlawfully adopting new legal provisions such as Article 505A to crackdown on dissent.
This report summarises one year of monitoring and data analysis. It documents just one element of the military’s campaign of attacks on the right to freedom of expression, namely the use of the vaguely written Penal Code Articles 505 and 505A.
The two articles, one written and the other amended by the military since the coup, criminalise individuals for a range of speech “crimes”. These include condemning democratic campaigning as “incitement” and prosecuting journalism as spreading false information.
FEM identified 3,995 individuals who have been criminalised by arrest warrants, detentions, charges, or sentences under Articles 505 and 505A, but estimates that the military’s secrecy hides the actual number of almost 10,000.
At the time of publication, of those 3,995 identified as criminalised under Articles 505 and 505A, about half remained underground or had left military-controlled areas. 1,269 were still in pre-trial detention, and 143 were sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment.
Half of those individuals criminalised were based in Yangon or Mandalay. Yangon alone detained more than 700 people under Articles 505 and 505A and issued almost 400 arrest warrants.
When considering population sizes, Kayah, Tanintharyi and Chin States and Regions criminalised many individuals too. Kayah, Kayin, and Chin have held more detainees in prison for longer.
Individuals criminalised under Articles 505 and 505A were from a diverse range of backgrounds. Almost half were state employees, including a quarter who were healthcare workers. This indicates the broad nature of the anti-coup movement.
Ten percent of those criminalised were professionally employed to exercise their right to freedom of expression, including 103 politicians, 99 journalists and media workers, and 48 civil society workers.
The demographic makeup of criminalised individuals was also diverse, ranging from those in their 70s to children as young as 14. More older people, many of whom may have been identified by the military as likely opposition before the coup, were under an arrest warrant but not detained. Younger people tended to be detained in prison.
More men were criminalised than women, but women facing criminalisation tended to be younger and were often state employees, such as nurses and teachers. Women were, therefore, less likely to have prior experience of being criminalised, or have access to civil society and legal support networks.
Any authority who cares about democracy and human rights must release all individuals facing criminalisation under Articles 505 and 505A.
Such an authority, including any future government, must also exonerate those individuals, reversing their convictions, apologise to them on behalf of the state, restore any former status, including employment, and provide adequate compensation for such human rights violations and their effects.
The international community should support criminalised individuals by ensuring that they are not forgotten in any relevant decision-making processes, whether concerning decisions on political interventions, donor funding, or business investment.
All parties must recognise that the situation in Myanmar is first a gross and systematic violation of human rights that has created a growing humanitarian catastrophe. As such, it requires a political resolution. Until now, all political efforts have failed, and the situation is actually worsening. Substantive new actions are required.