Like other citizens, lawyers are entitled to enjoyment of their rights to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. These fundamental freedoms acquire specific importance in the case of persons involved in the administration of justice.
The UN Basic Principles accordingly underscore and clarify the particular rights of lawyers to take part in public discussions of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice, and human rights; to join or form local, national or international organizations; and to attend the meetings of such groups or associations without suffering professional restrictions. They also emphasize that in exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association, lawyers must conduct themselves in line with the law and recognized standards and ethics of the legal profession.
Furthermore, as set out above in Section 3, lawyers are entitled to form and join self-governing professional associations that represent their interests, promote their continuing education and protect their professional integrity.
a) Freedom of association
Concerns about the lack of independence of the Myanmar Bar Council are set out above in Section 3 on the independence of the legal profession.
Many lawyers in Myanmar are members of independent bar associations or other groups of lawyers that do not have any official, government-mandated functions, but provide an outlet for lawyers to communicate and coordinate with each other. Between 1988 and 2011 some groups, such as the Yangon Bar Association, were forced through government intimidation and interference to abandon most of their activities for more than two decades. Others, such as the Bago Bar Association, were able to carry on many of their activities without registration, even cooperating with local authorities on matters concerning lawyers. 
Today, the government has dramatically lessened its harassment of independent bar associations. However, the Unlawful Associations Act and other repressive laws have not been repealed. Further, the government has not allowed lawyers to register independent bar associations with the government, having the consequence of hindering their membership and operations. While the government has publicly expressed a willingness to register the bar associations, but has not taken any action to match this rhetoric.
b) Freedom of expression
The right to freedom of speech under the 2008 Constitution of Myanmar is subject to a range of restrictions. Speech may be restricted if it is “contrary to the laws, enacted for Union security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquillity or public order and morality.” While punishment of lawyers for expression of their views has declined since 2011 and lawyers are now speaking up with greater confidence than in several decades in particular about the need for law and justice reform and enhancing protection and respect for human rights and the rule of law, many members of the profession continue to fear that speaking openly about politically sensitive issues will lead to disciplinary action, prejudicial treatment, criminal accusations, or contempt of court charges. This fear chills lawyers’ freedom of expression at a time when their leadership is needed.
- 128. UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, [expand title=”Principle 23;”]Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights and to join or form local, national or international organizations and attend their meetings, without suffering professional restrictions by reason of their lawful action or their membership in lawful organization. In exercising these rights, lawyers shall always conduct themselves in accordance with the law and the recognized standards and ethics of the legal profession.[/expand] Draft Universal Declaration on the Independence of Justice (also known as the Singhvi Declaration), [expand title=”Article 92;”]Lawyers shall enjoy freedom of belief, expression, association and assembly; and in particular they shall have the right to: (a) Take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law and the administration of justice; (b) Join or form freely local, national and international organizations; (c) Propose and recommend well considered law reforms in the public interest and inform the public about such matters; (d) Take full and active part in the political, social and cultural life of their country.[/expand] International Commission of Jurists, Geneva Declaration: Principles on Upholding the Rule of Law and the Role of Judges and Lawyers in Times of Crisis (2008), [expand title=”Principle 5;”]In times of crisis the stability and continuity of the judiciary is essential. Judges should not be subject to arbitrary removal, individually or collectively, by the executive, legislative or judicial branches. Judges may only be removed, by means of fair and transparent proceedings, for serious misconduct incompatible with judicial office, criminal offence or incapacity that renders them unable to discharge their functions. The right of judges and lawyers to freedom of association, including the right to establish and join professional associations, must at all times be respected. [/expand] International Bar Association (IBA), Standards for the Independence of the Legal Profession, [expand title=”Standard 14.”]Lawyers shall not by reason of exercising their profession be denied freedom of belief, expression, association and assembly; and in particular they shall have the right to: a) take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law and the administration of justice; b) join or form freely local, national and international organisations; c) propose and recommend well considered law reforms in the public interest and inform the public about such matters. [/expand]↵
- 129. International Commission of Jurists, Right to Counsel: The Independence of Lawyers in Myanmar (December 2013), p. 29.↵
- 130. International Commission of Jurists, Right to Counsel: The Independence of Lawyers in Myanmar (December 2013), p. 29; IBAHRI, The Rule of Law in Myanmar: Challenges and Prospects (December 2012), p. 65.↵
- 131. Constitution, [expand title=”S. 354.”]Every citizen shall be at liberty in the exercise of the following rights, if not contrary to the laws, enacted for Union security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility or public order and morality: (a) to express and publish freely their convictions and opinions; (b) to assemble peacefully without arms and holding procession; (c) to form associations and organizations; (d) to develop their language, literature, culture they cherish, religion they profess, and customs without prejudice to the relations between one national race and another or among national races and to other faiths.[/expand]↵
- 132. International Commission of Jurists, Right to Counsel: The Independence of Lawyers in Myanmar (December 2013), pp. 29-30.↵
- 133. See Janelle Saffin, New Mandala, Where are Burma’s laywers in the transition (18 July 2012),↵