Taking his seat in Myanmar’s parliament for the first time, Myo Zaw Aung, a one-time bodyguard for Aung San Suu Kyi, acknowledged the dozens of new lawmakers from her National League for Democracy (NLD) had a daunting task ahead.

Burma, once ruled by one of the most repressive regimes in the world, has entered into a new era as the parliament led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) convened on February 1, 2016 for the first time.

The NLD, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide election last November 2015 defeating the then ruling and military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

But despite this recent development, old issues have remained. Among them, the continuing restrictions on free expression and press freedom.

Limited Access

Covering the sessions of the previous parliament was not that easy, journalists said.

“In the beginning, you couldn’t ask questions to the lawmakers,” said Aung Htet, a senior reporter of the Voice Weekly, a local publication.

“We had five minutes to enter the assembly hall. Interviews and photographs are allowed [only] during these five minutes,” added Aung Htet who has been covering the parliament since 2011.

Journalists were not permitted to enter the Parliament chambers in April 2015 after photos of sleeping lawmakers were published online. The following month, journalists negotiated with Burmese officials to restore their access.

Since then, reporters in the capital Naypyidaw have to make do watching the proceedings from a television in the parliament’s corridor.

“We informed the NLD about it, but (there is) no reply yet,” Aung Htet said.

Other pictures, which showed members of the parliament (MP) using their tablets while at work and an army representative leaning over the desk of an absent MP to press a voting button, were also published.

Kyaw Soe, director general of the Union Parliament who handles administrative duties, cited the public release of these photos as the main reason for the rules on the conduct of the media during sessions.

The restrictions did not only apply to journalists, but also to MPs.

“USDP lawmakers had to pass censors before discussion in parliament all the time,” said Thura U Aung Ko, who was ousted from his role as a central committee member of President Thein Sein’s USDP.

“We can only discuss issues in accordance with the party policy,” Thura U Aung Ko said on his last day as an MP on 29 January 2016.

In Transition

In the 2010 general elections, the USDP led by the ex-generals of the former junta dominated while NLD boycotted the polls.

The quasi-civilian government of President Thein Sein, a former general, restored some civil liberties including the relaxation of media restrictions. In August 2012, the authorities ended the (pre-publication) censorship regime of the local publications. This media-related development has become the linchpin of Burma’s reform process, even as concerns about self-censorship and other attacks against the media continued.

Media freedom advocate groups in the country said the policy has not gone far enough to introduce a “normal” media environment under the quasi-civilian government. Radio and television licenses have yet to be liberalized; and access to information and government officials remains almost impossible.

These issues indicate that free expression and press freedom remain at a fragile stage.

NLD, on its way to becoming the main opposition party, won 43 out of the 44 parliament seats vacated by Thein Sein cabinet members during the by-elections in April 2012.

Its victory last November 2015 gave journalists hope for an improved media and press freedom landscape.

“I believe the NLD knows the role of media in the democratic transition, and will respect the right to information,” said Aung Thura, a member of the Myanmar Journalist Network.

“Daw Suu has invited us to give advice related to the media situation here,” he said.

Meanwhile, Suu Kyi is under criticism for blocking the party’s spokesperson from talking to the media about the party policy shortly after its election victory.

Her order raised concerns whether NLD lawmakers can discuss in the parliament freely or not.

“She just restricts us before the power transfer,” said Win Htein of the NLD. “Don’t worry for freedom of expression in parliament as well as in the country. We respect and value the press freedom.”


Burma’s first-ever LGBT film festival kicked off Thursday evening at Rangoon’s French Institute on Pyay Road, showcasing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-themed international films for a second year running.

Phil Blackwood, a New Zealand bar manager convicted of insulting religion in a high-profile case last year, was quietly released from Insein Prison on January 22, the same day he was granted amnesty, according to two political prisoner groups. His Myanmar colleagues, the owner and co-manager of the bar, have not been freed and were not pardoned, the same groups said.

Burma freed 101 political prisoners last week, bringing the number of political detainees released by President Thein Sein to more than 1,200 since his semi-civilian government took power in 2011, a watchdog group said on Monday.

Kachin aid worker Patrick Khum Jaa Lee, who was arrested over a Facebook post deemed to defame the Burma Army, was sentenced on Friday to six months in prison minus time served, just hours after a presidential amnesty freed dozens of others viewed as prisoners of conscience.

Phil Blackwood, a New Zealand national incarcerated in Rangoon’s Insein Prison since December 2014, will be released on Friday.

This paper was a matter of some controversy last week when we ran a job advert in which we said we were looking to employ “Marketing Executives (Female only)”.

A Rangoon court is expected to deliver a ruling later this week on the case of a Kachin social worker arrested in October over a Facebook post he disputes sharing, according to the defendant’s wife.

Myanmar journalist Htet Khaung Lin has been awarded the prestigious Lorenzo Natali Prize in Brussels for a story on clandestine sex workers.

The Irrawaddy news group will suspend its Myanmar language print edition on January 21, citing the difficulty of competing in the marketplace with government-backed publications.

Local Android developer Ko Win Htaik Aung is hoping to make reporting and addressing human rights violations a little easier with a new mobile human rights app.

To systematically monitor the use of hate speech through media, PEN Myanmar has been conducting a conflict sensitive media monitoring project, the group said in a statement on 12 January to announce the release of their report ‘Hate Speech:A Study of Print, Movies, Songs and Social Media in Myanmar.’

Myanmar’s Lower House has demanded journalists who want to report on the Parliament beginning its term on February 1 must register at the press council.

Internet hackers have attacked around 300 Thai court and government websites bringing them offline in retaliation for the sentencing of two Burmese migrant workers to death by a Koh Samui court in December.

A Thai court has seized the passport of a prominent British activist vocal about migrant rights in Thailand and is barring him from leaving the country.

With a flourish of his pencil, cartoonist Maung Maung Aung skewers a pampered politician in a sketch, an image that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable.

Netflix – the world’s largest internet television network – has come to Myanmar as part of the firm’s expansion into 130 new countries. But slow download speeds and expensive data fees mean Myanmar’s DVD shops are not under threat from online streaming just yet.

A Girl , eight years old, kneels naked on a hard floor. Her arms are being tied behind her back by a woman – allegedly a maid in the household of military MP Major Kyaw Nu Maw.

A Facebook post on Thursday by Information Minister Ye Htut could well be interpreted as a tut-tutting of recent remarks by Win Htein, a National League for Democracy (NLD) central committee member who scolded a Radio Free Asia journalist this week after the reporter’s interview focused on the party’s reluctance to reveal its presidential picks.

Next Page »