The British Empire started to fall apart after the Second World War. Over the new few years, at the culmination of long, hard-fought independence struggles, countries all over the world gained independence and were free, more or less, to pursue their own goals and self-rule. However, an unhelpful inheritance of colonial legislation designed to repress, control, and curtail freedom of expression was bestowed upon these nations. This inheritance continues to contribute to the repression of democratic norms, and the curtailment of human rights, just as it did during the British Empire.
On September 3rd, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years in prison under the 1908 Official Secrets Act. The sentencing was condemned worldwide, including by the British Foreign Office. However, what is often overlooked is that the repressive legislation used, became part of Burma’s legislation back in 1908, when it was part of the British Raj. During Britain’s departure from Burma in 1948, it did not remove or adapt the legal code to one befitting a democratic nation, leaving its colonial legislation behind long after independence. This archaic legislation continues to be used in the country, from the Penal Code of 1860, to the Unlawful Association Act of 1908, to detain activists, civilians across the country.
This problem is by no means limited to Myanmar. There were jubilant scenes in India in September when the Indian high court repealed Section 377a of the Indian Penal. Yet while in India criminalisation of homosexuality may have been overturned, sedition, blasphemy, unlawful assembly and adultery remain outlawed, again under the law left behind by the British Raj. Even worse, the archaic Section 377a remains used to criminalise homosexuality in over
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