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Govt accused of undermining democracy ahead of Myanmar polls

UN rapporteur says people are being locked up for criticizing authorities

Govt accused of undermining democracy ahead of Myanmar polls

Election officials with a ballot box arrive at a village in Yangon on Oct. 31 during advance voting for elderly people ahead of Myanmar's Nov. 8 general election. (Photo: AFP)

A United Nations rights expert has called on Myanmar’s government and its military to stop persecuting opposition supporters including journalists and student protesters ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.

Tom Andrews, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said he applauded the government for setting a laudable standard for the election that they be free, fair and reflect the will of the people.

“But this cannot happen as long as it is enforcing laws that undermine the very lifeblood of democracy, and the right to vote is denied based on race, ethnicity or religion as it is with the Rohingya,” Andrews said in a statement on Nov. 2.

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He said the army “is using the Penal Code, enacted by the British in 1861, to lock up journalists, students and others for exercising their basic right to free expression. Their crime? Their willingness to criticize the government and military.”

He added that other laws, such as the Peaceful Assembly Act and Telecommunications Law, are being enforced in a way that infringes on the rights to freedom of expression, association and freedom of the press.

“The election campaign is providing a clear and compelling illustration of why and where reforms are needed to move democracy forward in Myanmar,” Andrews noted.

The rights expert has slammed a voter information application provided by the Union Election Commission (UEC) that identifies the race and religion of candidates and refers to Rohingya candidates by the derogatory term “Bengali”.

He said the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar determined that this term is used as a tool of “systematic oppression and persecution.”

Andrews criticized the UEC for cancelling elections for more than a million Myanmar voters over security concerns.

“The lack of transparency of the commission’s process, and its apparent failure to consider alternatives, has predictably led to charges that its decision was more about politics than security,” he said.

He said independent observers have warned that this will have “a significant, detrimental impact, particularly in Rakhine, an area that cannot afford to have more fuel added to an already escalating fire.”

Last week the UN human rights office raised serious concerns about rights violations, particularly against minority groups including Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine, ahead of the elections. It also voiced concerns over the unrelenting proliferation of hateful speech against Muslims on Facebook.

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