Myanmar sinks to worst rating in new global report on civic freedoms16 March, 2023
- Myanmar downgraded from ‘repressed’ to ‘closed
- Thousands of activists and protesters in detention with some tortured or killed
- Unrelenting crackdown on the media and civil society
Myanmar has been downgraded from ‘repressed’ to ‘closed’ in a new report by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global research collaboration that rates and tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries and territories. According to the report, People Power Under Attack 2022, the brutal crackdown on dissent following the 2021 coup, jailing of thousands of activists, assault on press freedom and civil society, led to the downgrade.
‘Closed’ is the worst rating a country can receive by the CIVICUS Monitor. In reality, it means that an atmosphere of fear and violence prevails in Myanmar, where people are routinely imprisoned and attacked for exercising their civic rights of association, free assembly and expression. China, Russia, and Iran are also rated closed.
Myanmar has been a country of concern for some time; In February 2021, following the junta takeover it was added to the CIVICUS Monitor ‘Watchlist’, a collection of countries where there was a recent and rapid deterioration in civic freedoms. The continuous onslaught on civic freedoms by the junta has prompted the downgrade.
The CIVICUS Monitor is particularly concerned about the criminalisation of human rights defenders, lawyers, students, opposition politicians and other activists over the last two years for their acts of dissent both off and online. Thousands are currently in detention after being arrested on fabricated charges including for terrorism, incitement and sedition. Many have been convicted by secret military tribunals in unfair trials and given harsh sentences including the death penalty.
There has been ongoing reports of torture and ill-treatment of activists in detention. According to civil society groups, prison officials kicked and slapped detainees, and also beat them with rifle butts and electrical wires. Some also faced psychological torture including rape and death treats. The junta has also sentenced activists to capital punishment. In July 2022, the junta executed four activists in the country’s first death sentences carried out in over 30 years.
“For more than two years, the military junta has carried out a brutal assault on its own people by imposing severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms and jailing thousands on trumped up charges for challenging them. Many have been brutally tortured and even executed to crush any opposition to their rule. The downgrade in Myanmar's civic space rating highlights this worrying deterioration ,” said Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Civic Space Researcher for CIVICUS.
The CIVICUS Monitor is also concerned about the systematic targeting of journalists. Many have been charged for violating section 505(a) of the penal code, which makes it a crime to publish or circulate comments that “cause fear” or spread “false news.” In December 2022, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that at least 42 journalists were imprisoned in Myanmar and at least 4 have been killed.
Civil society organisations have been forced to reduce or suspend their operations or close their offices and many civil society leaders fearing their lives had to go into hiding or have left the country. In October 2022, the junta enacted the Organization Registration Law that will further shackle the functioning of civil society in the country and is inconsistent with international human rights law and standards.
The five-point consensus agreement decided by Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders in Jakarta in April 2021 has seen no tangible progress as the junta plans to conduct elections in 2023 to legitimise their rule.
“The sustained crackdown on the media and civil society show why Myanmar has sunk to the lowest level in the CIVICUS Monitor’s global ratings. The ongoing failure by ASEAN to address the crisis calls for stronger measures from the international community to end the serious violations by the junta and to restore civic space and democratic rule in the country. States must also ensure that the junta is held to account for the crimes they have committed and provide support to activists at risk and in exile,” said Benedict.
This concerning picture in Myanmar is mirrored across the world; CIVICUS Monitor data shows that year after year, there is significantly less space for people to exercise fundamental freedoms: only three per cent of the world’s population lives in countries rated as ‘open’.
Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor, providing evidence and research that help us target countries where civic freedoms are at risk. The Monitor has posted more than 490 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2022.
Civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories are categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology that combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
Myanmar is now rated ‘closed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor. There are 26 other countries that have this rating (see all). Visit Myanmar’s homepage on the CIVICUS Monitor for more information and check back regularly for the latest updates.
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