Myanmar: blasphemy detainees must be freed
The Myanmar authorities must immediately release and drop all charges or quash convictions against all people detained for allegedly having the “deliberate and malicious intention to insult religion,” said the ICJ today.
While President Thein Sein had declared an amnesty on 22 January for 102 prisoners, including 52 political prisoners, it is unclear exactly how many prisoners continue to be detained in prison under section 295A of the Penal Code and awaiting trials for blasphemy.
“Charging and imprisoning people on charges under Myanmar’s blasphemy laws is inconsistent with human rights including freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, the right to liberty, and the right to equality before the law without discrimination,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director.
“The problem is compounded in Myanmar when courts have been convicting individuals in unfair trials and in the absence of evidence of any deliberate and malicious intent to insult religion,” he added.
Last week, President Thein Sein pardoned Philip Blackwood, a New Zealand citizen sentenced to two and a half years with hard labour for posting on Facebook a psychedelic image of the Buddha wearing headphones to promote a bar.
His colleagues Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin, Myanmar citizens, do not seem to have been released (although it is possible that they may have been granted amnesty as well).
Another detainee, Htin Linn Oo, a writer and National League for Democracy information officer who was sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour, has not been released.
U Nyar Na (aka) Moe Pyar Sayar Taw, a monk arrested in Kachin state in 2010 and charged under various provisions of the Penal Code, including section 295A, was sentenced to imprisonment for 20 years. His reported release during the amnesty last week remains unconfirmed.
These charges and convictions are in violation of international law, including a range of human rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by international treaties, the ICJ says.
“The laws must be repealed or fundamentally changed, ongoing prosecutions ended, and those imprisoned for their beliefs or protected speech and other expression immediately and unconditionally released,” Zarifi said.
“These prosecutions seem to be a result of intense political pressure from extremist Buddhist political groups. As the Myanmar judiciary and legal system try to emerge from decades of political interference on with independence, it’s crucial that they act in the interests of justice and human rights,” he added.
The ICJ urges the Myanmar authorities to drop all charges against the accused persons who have not yet been tried; take immediate measures to secure the quashing of convictions under the law; and take effective measures to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of all detainees held pursuant Section 295A.
The ICJ also calls on the government to act to repeal or amend section 295A to bring it in line with international law and standards.
In Bangkok: Sam Zarifi, ICJ Regional Director, Asia-Pacific Programme, t: +66807819002 ; e: sam.zarifi(a)icj.org
In Myanmar: Vani Sathisan, ICJ International Legal Adviser, t: +95 9250800301 ; e: vani.sathisan(a)icj.org
Myanmar’s Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression, conscience, and to freely profess and practice religion.
The UN Human Rights Committee established by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) emphasizes that “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant”. The only limited exception under the Covenant would be for proportionate and non-discriminatory measures to prohibit “advocacy of…religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”. Section 295A falls far short of this threshold.NewsPress releases