Last month, Myanmar’s regime enacted the Myanmar Police Act making it compulsory for law enforcement officers to fight alongside soldiers on the front lines, while expanding their powers to restrict citizens’ liberty.
Under the law, the appointment of police officers and any structural changes to the force requires the approval of the military chief.
Legal advisor U Khin Maung Myint recently talked to The Irrawaddy about how the law will affect people.
Why has the regime made it compulsory for the police to serve in security and combat roles besides law enforcement?
The police used to be a separate entity before 1962 but since then the military has used armed organizations, including the police, as auxiliary forces.
Now this law assigns security and defense roles to the police. It has been years since security battalions were formed within the police to perform as military units. The law was enacted to assign fighting roles to the police if necessary.
Do you think officers will have to go to the frontline?
It is likely. Police battalions had to fight in the past. While officers from township police stations were engaged in law enforcement, police battalions had to fight alongside the military on the frontline.
When they gained control of an area and the troops left, police battalions stayed and reestablished security. This law means that not only police battalions but all officers will be ordered to fight.
The law grants greater powers to the police. How will it affect the freedom and security of citizens?
Laws focused on security and protection often compromise the citizenship rights, privacy and security of individuals.
Under the law, officers can arrest and search buildings, citing security and defense concerns. Residents have to hand over a layout of new homes. There can be no privacy and safety.
There is no problem if those provisions are enforced properly, respecting constitutional rights but if the powers granted by the law are abused, it is quite dangerous.
The law carries prison sentences for banging pots and pans. Is the regime trying to stop every form of protest?
The law expands officers’ powers, largely in response to the changing situation.
The resistance of the people’s defense forces and ethnic armed groups has spread from ethnic-majority states and rural areas to the cities. As resistance groups appear to be planning to launch large-scale attacks in a so-called D-day, the law aims to lift the restrictions on police so officers can take preventive measures against potential attackers.
How about the increasing penalties for certain crimes under the law?
Every regime rules with fear. It hopes increased penalties will deter potential perpetrators and reduce opposition.
But the punishment must fit the crime and only then can social order be maintained.
How do you assess the law?
By international standards, the law grants excessive power to Myanmar’s police. It will overstretch the police from their primary duty: to maintain tranquility and enforce the rule of law. They are not enforcing the law at the moment and they will be overburdened if they are also to fight. It is out of touch with reality.
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