Ban Repeal Welcomed, Amid Calls for More Reform

Supporters of Min Ko Naing, founder of the pro-democracy movement 88 Generation Students Group, gather on January 14, 2012, to welcome him after his release from prison. (Photo: REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun)

President Thein Sein’s decision to repeal a ban on public gatherings is being welcomed in Burma as another step towards establishing freedom of expression. But a parliamentarian said revoking many other repressive laws in Burma should now be fast-tracked.

MP Thein Nyunt called on Parliament this week to revoke the Electronic Act, a draconian law which limits the free flow of information.

On Wednesday, state-run newspaper Myanma Ahlin reported that the government had decided to end Martial Law Order 2/88, saying it was “not in line with the Constitution.”

The ban was imposed after the military crushed Burma’s democracy movement in 1988. It enforced a night curfew and forbid public gatherings of more than five people.

The decision is the latest in a series of reform measures by Thein Sein since taking office in 2011.These steps have earned his quasi-civilian government many plaudits in Burma and abroad.

“The [2/88] order is a burden on civilians. I welcomed that they abolished such an unnecessary order,” said Thein Nyunt, an independent Lower House MP who represents Rangoon’s Thingangyun Township.

“The order was imposed by the junta. Now we have a new existing Constitution. And the order is not in line with the Constitution,” said the MP, who often advocates for freedom of expression in Burma.

However, the previous military government created a wide range of different repressive laws to target opposition groups, rights activists, and journalists. The majority of these laws remain in place.

Thein Nyunt said the government should begin by repealing the most draconian laws, such as the Electronic Act, Section 5 (j) and Section 505 (b) of the Penal Code, and Article 17/1 of the Illegal Organization Act.

The 2004 Electronic Act prohibits sending information, photos or video damaging to the regime abroad via the Internet, and people have been jailed under it for having email contact with exiled dissidents.

Others were sentenced under the Illegal Organization Act for having contact with Burma’s ethnic armed groups fighting for greater autonomy.

Thein Nyunt said he had called on Parliament on Tuesday to support the repeal of the Electronic Act, adding that the act went against democratic principles and obstructed “the free flow of information” that Burmese society needs.

“I proposed at Parliament yesterday that such restrictive laws should be removed. And we are in the process of discussion. We will vote at the Parliament for a decision” on the Electronic Act, he said.

It remains to be seen however, if Thein Sein’s government will remove all these laws, as Burma’s Parliament is still dominated by the military-affiliated USDP party, while military officers also hold a quarter of all Parliament seats.

Myint Kyaw, the general-secretary of the Myanmar Journalist Network, said freedom of expression had greatly improved under Thein Sein, but he added that the president should now remove the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act.

Without this decision there is no full press freedom, he said, as the act is regularly being used to reject or withdraw publishing licenses, while it provides harsh punishments for media organizations that do not comply.

“Publishers can be jailed if they don’t have a license,” said Myint Kyaw.

2 Responses to Ban Repeal Welcomed, Amid Calls for More Reform

  1. There are several outlawed organisations, not least the CPB. Time all these ethnic as well as Bamar groups were made legal political entities so they can air their views and put forward their policies to the public without having to resort to armed resistance. Freedom of expression and free debate in an open society are long overdue.

  2. George Than Setkyar Heine

    Hey that’s NOT A BIG DEAL man!
    Thein Sein CAN’T HANDLE the PUBLIC of TODAY if you don’t know yet.
    This is only a RUSE to SCORE SOME POINTS only idiot.
    People are MARCHING and DEMONSTRATING en masse in Burma and Thein Sein is acting like a SMART ASS looking the other way as he would not dare to STIR the HORNETS’ NEST in the first place.
    In case he is SINCERE/HONEST for that matter he should REPEAL the other most draconian laws, such as the Electronic Act, Section 5 (j) and Section 505 (b) of the Penal Code, and Article 17/1 of the Illegal Organization Act. as well, like Thein Nyunt is CALLING/YELLING at the moment.
    Myint Kyaw’s call for removing the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act would also improve freedom of expression as well of course.
    Anyway, the CAT WILL BE OUT OF THE BAG after VOTING TIME in Thein Sein’s parliament crowded with USDP ‘selected members’ and occupied by 25% uniformed personnel sitting with stiff faces like ZOMBIES for all the world to witness as well, lest you guys forget.

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