The Myanmar authorities should stop prosecuting and threatening journalists and human rights defenders for reporting and speaking out about human rights abuses, the organisation says.
Fortify Rights pointed to the Myanmar military’s threats legal action on January 28 against anyone alleging that the military is responsible for the killings of two ethnic-Kachin women teachers on January 20 in a village in Shan State. The following day, the office of President U Thein Sein directed the note to members of the media.
These threats follow the ongoing prosecution of U Brang Shawng, an ethnic-Kachin man who faces criminal charges for alleging that the Myanmar military is responsible for the death of his 14-year-old daughter, Ja Seng Ing, the group says.
“We’re seeing worrying trends. Wartime violence against civilians is continuing and the Myanmar military is increasingly using the justice system as a tool to silence critics,” said Mr Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights. “The authorities should ensure swift justice for misconduct by soldiers rather than shielding them from public scrutiny and accountability.”
Fortify Rights says the authorities should retract their threats of legal action against those alleging military involvement in the murders and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
They are also calling for an independent international investigation, including Myanmar partners, into alleged violations of international human rights, criminal, and humanitarian law committed by all parties to Myanmar’s various ongoing armed conflicts.
In December, Fortify Rights and five leading international human rights organisations sent a letter to President U Thein Sein regarding the prosecution of U Brang Shawng, calling for all charges to be immediately and unconditionally dropped. A verdict in the case in Hpakant Township court is expected within weeks.
“The military is seeking to flip justice on its head by prosecuting survivors and their family members, journalists, and human rights defenders, and the government seems content to play along,” said Mr Smith.
“The authorities need to understand they can’t punish critics just because they don’t like what they have to say.”