Throughout the years, many events inspired by the Stockholm Internet Forum have been arranged across the globe. Several Swedish embassies have arranged meetings, lunches and networking events ahead and after the main SIF, and we have also seen spin-off events like the Maputo Internet Forum. Just recently, we received encouraging news about a super successful Myanmar Digital Rights Forum, gathering participants from different sectors to discuss internet freedom in Myanmar.
The Myanmar Digital Rights Forum took place in Yangon on 14-15 December and gathered leaders from a variety of different sectors, including the Myanmar government. The initiative to arrange the forum came from inspired former participants at the Stockholm Internet Forum, and in effect became a Myanmar version of the SIF. The event was the first of its kind in a country that until recently for decades was very isolated from the rest of the world. The Swedish Embassy Section Office in Yangon funded the event.
The inclusion of the government in the discussions on internet freedom is an important and positive change in the right direction. The changing times were also evident by the fact that several speakers and participants were former political prisoners. Myanmar is currently undergoing a transition process towards democracy with its first democratically elected government since the 1950s. However, the democratization process is still ongoing and human rights violations are still occurring widely in the country.
Internet usage has grown explosively in the last years in Myanmar. A few years back, the price for a SIM card was a staggering 2 000 USD, today it costs around 1 USD. In combination with cheap smartphones, this means that a majority of the people for the first time have access to the internet. As discussed at the forum, there is a lack of awareness of digital rights in the country, as well as a lack of digital literacy. A current problem is the spreading of fake news and rumors, and the increasing use of hate speech online. This is a critical problem in a country with a lack of access to information, and existing widespread tension and violence between different groups.
The laws are not keeping up with the huge increase in connectivity, and there is a need for people’s freedom and rights online to be ensured. “Urgent action is needed to make sure that Myanmar people are protected when they are using the internet” said Ei Myat Noe Khin from Phandeeyar, one of the lead organizers of the forum.
One of the laws that particularly poses problems for digital rights and freedom of expression is the Telecommunications law. People are being convicted for stating opinions online that are considered to defame the government and others, but the provisions are considered as broad and vague. There are now calls for this article to being amended.
The Myanmar Digital Rights Forum was a very timely event in the ongoing transition process in Myanmar, and the digital rights movement here is considered to have increased its energy. It is great to know that the Stockholm Internet Forum played a decisive part in this development, and the organizers hope that they can give valuable input from Myanmar to this year’s Stockholm Internet Forum, too!
We would like to extend our thanks and appreciation to the four organizing partners for their hard work: Phandeeyar Innovation Lab, Myanmar ICT Development Organization (MIDO), Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB), and Engage Media.
This text was written by Linnea Cederlund at the Embassy of Sweden, Section office in Yangon with editing by SIF.