RANGOON — Burma’s Deputy Home Affairs Minister has told Parliament that the government has no plans to abolish or amend two draconian laws that were frequently used to prosecute political activists during past decades of military rule.
In a response to lawmakers’ questions on Tuesday, National Police Chief and Home Affairs Deputy Minister Kyaw Kyaw Htun said there was no need to amend the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act and the 1975 State Protection Law.
“Every country has these kinds of law to protect the security and stability of the nation as well as its citizens.
Since these laws already have effective penalties, there’s no way to abolish the acts, neither to reduce nor increase the penalties,” he said. Kyaw Kyaw Thun added that the laws were not in contravention with the 2008 Constitution.
Both laws contain articles that have frequently been used during past decades of military rule in Burma to jail writers, journalists and political activists. Many activists and former political prisoners have called for abolishing or amending the repressive laws.
The Emergency Provisions Act’s article 5j has broadly formulated charges that carry a prison sentence of up to seven years for anyone who prevents civil servants and army officers from carrying out their duties, or for anyone who spreads information among the public that opposes the government.
The State Protection Law’s article 10a and 10b gives the authorities sweeping powers to detain anyone who has committed or is about to commit an act that may be considered as an “infringement of the sovereignty and security of the Union of Burma,” or as a “threat to the peace of the people.”
It allows authorities to detain suspects without trial for long periods of time.
Opposition MPs on Tuesday questioned the government on why it had no plans to amend the draconian laws.
“As our country is now much stable than before and as we have peace talks with ethnic groups now, and moreover, because we are moving on with reforms, I believe these laws are no longer needed,” said Thein Nyunt of New National Democracy Party.
Thein Nyunt took the initiative to submit his own draft amendments to change the junta-era laws.
“Since 1950, the regime has used these laws to oppress the political movements and against those who they want to put in jail. I believe many would feel, like me, that such laws must be abolished or amended for the good of the country,” he said.
“I hope my draft laws will be brought up for discussions very soon. I think the police chief’s words will not affect this discussion.”
Since President Thein Sein’s reformist government took office in 2011 it has introduced a range of political reforms, such as lifting restrictions on media freedom, releasing hundreds of political prisoners and repealing a number of repressive laws, such as long-standing bans on public gatherings and speeches.
However, during military rule the junta created a web of repressive laws to suppress dissent and many of these laws still remain in effect. Activists have been calling on the government to push ahead and repeal all such laws.
De Nyein Linn, a former political prisoner who was once sentenced to 65 years in prison for attempting to form a students’ union, said it was key for Burma’s transition to a human rights-respecting democracy that the repressive laws were abolished or amended.
“As they do not have plans to do so, we have to question, will there be political prisoners in the future and will the government still want to oppress the political movements?” he said. “If so, there will be many difficulties to move forward in national reconciliation.”