The recent pardon of 83 political prisoners is a praiseworthy achievement for Myanmar, but serves as a reminder of the work ahead for the government to ensure the right to free expression, said PEN America in a statement today. Among the prisoners released were six individuals—the Unity 5 group and Htin Lin Oo—featured in PEN America’s December 2015 report, Unfinished Freedom: A Blueprint for the Future of Free Expression in Myanmar, which examines the landscape for media and public discourse since 2012.

In total, 282 political prisoners have been released or had charges dropped against them in Myanmar since April 1 by the country’s first democratically elected government after nearly five decades of military rule. Newly-elected president Htin Kway signed the pardon on April 16 amid Myanmar’s New Year festivities in an effort toward “national reconciliation and peace of mind.” However, the laws used to convict both the pardoned political prisoners and those still-imprisoned endure as part of the legal framework that impedes the right to freedom of expression.

“This commendable pardon by the newly-elected government looks to right the wrongs suffered by so many in Myanmar for exercising their right to freedom of speech under the military junta,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “But essential steps remain to build on this progress, which can only be cemented by amending or repealing the laws that restrict or punish free expression in the country.”

A tangle of vaguely worded legal measures continues to be utilized in Myanmar to punish those who exercise their free expression online. As highlighted in the PEN America report, defamation, sedition, expression about religion and culture, and digital communications are criminalized in Myanmar through a series of repressive colonial- or military-era laws.

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Founded in 1922, PEN America is an association of 4,400 U.S. writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide. www.PEN.org

CONTACT
Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: +1 646-779-4830, sedkins@pen.org