Bill Committee Moves to Abolish Controversial Emergency Provisions Act

By Htet Naing Zaw 2 August 2016

NAYPYIDAW — A new bill that would repeal Burma’s controversial 1950 Emergency Provisions Act was submitted to the Lower House of Parliament on Monday; the move was met with divergent opinions from lawmakers.

The bill, which proposes the abolishment of the 66-year-old law, was drafted and submitted to the Parliament by the Lower House Bill Committee. Tun Tun Hein, committee chair, argued that the Emergency Provisions Act had been used by previous governments to stifle political dissent.

“It is not safe for citizens as long as this act exists. We therefore propose annulling the act for the sake of public security,” Tun Tun Hein told the reporters after the parliamentary session.

“This act was [initially] applied for military purposes, but then it was also applied for political purposes,” he said. “All the governments—from Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League to the Revolutionary Council to the previous government—have applied this act, allowing the government to arrest a person quite easily,” he claimed, referencing independent Burma’s first government, Ne Win’s military regime, and the Union Solidarity and Development Party’s (USDP) quasi-civilian administration.

“The NLD government is now [in office] and we want to change this,” Tun Tun Hein added.

The Emergency Provisions Act was originally enacted in 1950 by the government of Burma’s first prime minister, U Nu, in response to the civil war that erupted in the wake of the country’s independence. The law grants sweeping authority to the government to prosecute individuals who disseminate “false news” or are otherwise determined to have “jeopardized the state.” Successive governments have abused it to suppress dissidents and people.

The act carries the death penalty and sentences of up to life in prison for treason or sabotage against the military. It also dictates up to seven years in prison for a sweeping range of other “offenses” against the state.

Opposing the abolishment of the act, military lawmakers suggested instead amending some provisions that are deemed no longer suitable.

Brig-Gen Maung Maung, a Lower House military representative and a member of the bill committee, and Steven, a USDP lawmaker and the committee’s secretary, argued that a new law that fits the present time should be drafted and promulgated first if the Emergency Provisions Act is to be abolished.

Lwin Ko Latt, a lawmaker representing Thanlyin Township and a member of the Lower House’s Public Administration Committee, told The Irrawaddy that the act was misused to perpetuate arbitrary arrests and to suppress the work of human rights and pro-democracy activists. He expressed his support for its abolishment.

In the Parliament, the Lower House Bill Committee described the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act as a threat to fundamental rights of citizens at a time when a new democratic nation is being built. Representatives of the committee said they had held multiple discussions with the Public Administration Committee, the Office of the Attorney General of the Union, as well as the Home Affairs Ministry regarding the abolishment of the act.

Committee chair Tun Tun Hein said that the National League for Democracy (NLD) government is committed to changing laws and regulations, procedures, orders, and instructions that do not meet democratic and human rights norms. Lawmakers who want to discuss on the new bill have until Wednesday to register their names to indicate support for further exploration of the proposal in Parliament.

In 2015, during ex-president Thein Sein’s administration, the NLD—the then-leading opposition party—proposed scrapping the legislation at a Lower House legislative session. However, the move failed as the chamber was under the wider influence of the military-backed USDP majority at the time.

Win Myint, then a Lower House lawmaker, and the current Speaker of the House, said in 2015 that the legislation was designed “to instill fear and restrict political activity.”

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.