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PEN Myanmar: Pushing free expression reform and revitalizing literature

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What is a project that you have been working on in recent months?

PEN Myanmar always strives to find a balance between revitalizing Myanmar literature, and defending and promoting freedom of expression. All of our projects fall into these two categories. In 2016, for example, we released seven statements urging the new government – specifically the News Media Council, the parliaments and the military – to respect the media freedom and to ensure free expression as a fundamental human right. Responding openly to the assassination of U Ko Ni, the senior advisor of NLD, in January of this year was another big call for justice made by PEN Myanmar.

On top of that, we have been working on a media development legal reform to the News Media Law 2014 and sent our comments and recommendation to the Citizen Fundamental Rights, Democracy and Human Rights Committee under the Upper House (the House of Nationality). The Committee is reviewing our comments and will pass it to the Bill Committee. PEN Myanmar will be involved throughout the amending process as one of the stakeholder. Also, our Publishers Circle has been working on the repeal of the Printing and Publishing Enterprises Law.

Moreover, PEN Myanmar legal review committee is working on amending country’s other repressive laws and tools that undermine free expression, which includes advocating for the abolishment, editing or amending with public consensus of the following:  the Telecommunications Law, the Electronic Transaction Act, the Privacy Law and encouraging the formation of the Right to Information law.

A free expression environment that fosters informed dialogue, protects open debate, and promotes government transparency and accountability is a crucial foundation for democratic reform. In mid-November 2016, PEN Myanmar got together with experts from partner organizations to reflect on the state of free expression in Myanmar midway through the National League for Democracy (NLD) government’s first year. As a result, we produced The Freedom of Expression “scorecard” aimed to assess the progress – or lack thereof – by the new government in the key areas of free speech, media freedom, information access, and freedom of assembly. The scorecard report was released on 3 December at PEN Myanmar Annual General Conference. The one year report will be released in early May, 2017. This will be the yearly activity and PEN Myanmar will extend its networks and invite more media organizations to make the assessment report more inclusive.

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International bill of digital rights: call from 500 writers around the world

In a petition to the United Nations, a group of authors agree that democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space: The Guardian

A stand for democracy in a digital age

arundhati_royIn recent months, the extent of mass surveillance has become common knowledge. With a few clicks of the mouse the state can access your mobile device, your email, your social networking and internet searches. It can follow your political leanings and activities and, in partnership with internet corporations, it collects and stores your data, and thus can predict your consumption and behaviour.

The basic pillar of democracy is the inviolable integrity of the individual. Human integrity extends beyond the physical body. In their thoughts and in their personal environments and communications, all humans have the right to remain unobserved and unmolested.

This fundamental human right has been rendered null and void through abuse of technological developments by states and corporations for mass surveillance purposes.

A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy. To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space.

* Surveillance violates the private sphere and compromises freedom of thought and opinion.

* Mass surveillance treats every citizen as a potential suspect. It overturns one of our historical triumphs, the presumption of innocence.

* Surveillance makes the individual transparent, while the state and the corporation operate in secret. As we have seen, this power is being systemically abused.

* Surveillance is theft. This data is not public property: it belongs to us. When it is used to predict our behaviour, we are robbed of something else: the principle of free will crucial to democratic liberty.

WE DEMAND THE RIGHT for all people to determine, as democratic citizens, to what extent their personal data may be legally collected, stored and processed, and by whom; to obtain information on where their data is stored and how it is being used; to obtain the deletion of their data if it has been illegally collected and stored.

WE CALL ON ALL STATES AND CORPORATIONS to respect these rights.

WE CALL ON ALL CITIZENS to stand up and defend these rights.

WE CALL ON THE UNITED NATIONS to acknowledge the central importance of protecting civil rights in the digital age, and to create an international bill of digital rights.

WE CALL ON GOVERNMENTS to sign and adhere to such a convention.

Signed by more than 500 writers from around the world 

(including Martin Amis, Arundhati Roy, Tom Stoppard, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Richard Ford, Henning Mankell, Günter Grass, Michael Ondaatje, Ian McEwan,Orhan Pamuk and others)

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Dipankar Gupta: It’s not fair to say we deserve the leaders we get

Revolutionfrom aboveIn this interview, Indian social scientist Dipankar Gupta, former professor of sociology at JNU, New Delhi, turns to an ‘elite of calling’, citizens with the means to create a new paradigm (Tehelka).

We have been conditioned to believe that people count, that we must play to our immediate interests. So the most you can expect is some clean elite to develop, but that is not the answer. One thing I want this book to address is not to blame people for democracy. All too often, we say we deserve the leaders we get, which is unfair. Most people don’t have a choice; you can only choose among those who are available. For example, you want to buy a car. You have a dream car in mind, which runs on hydrogen and can take 100 people. But that car is not in the market. Likewise, there are only certain politicians in the marketplace, and the entry price in politics is very high. It’s not just money; it’s also violence.

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