Ban Repeal Welcomed, Amid Calls for More Reform

By Saw Yan Naing 30 January 2013

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.