Burma’s Lower House of Parliament is considering amending the draconian Electronic Transactions Law, a tool used by the country’s former military dictators to suppress political activism, lawmakers said on Wednesday.
The Electronic Transactions Law, which was promulgated by the former military regime in April 2004, allows for up to 15 years in prison for Internet users who receive, send or distribute any information that threatens or disturbs state security, law and order, community peace, national solidarity, the national economy or national culture.
Amendments to the law were proposed in Parliament on Wednesday by lawmaker Thein Nyunt of the New National Democracy Party.
Kyi Myint, an independent lawmaker in the Lower House, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that Union House Speaker Shwe Mann supported Thein Nyunt’s proposal.
The Electronic Transactions Law has been criticized for restricting freedom of expression, especially of activists, as the country transitions toward democracy after nearly half a century of military rule.
“This law is actually an important one to amend,” said Ba Shein, a lawmaker from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) and a member of Parliament’s Bill Committee. “The previous governing bodies made the laws just to protect their own self-interests.”
Lawmakers said the deputy minister for communications and information technology, Thaung Tin, also agreed to discuss the amendments.
“But he said the Bill Committee and the ministry would need to collaborate on the amendments to reflect freedom of speech,” said Kyi Myint. “And these amendments must be in accordance with the new communications bill.”
Thein Nyunt has been pushing for amendments to the Electronic Transactions Law since last year. In January he called on lawmakers to completely abolish the law, but this proposal was rejected by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
Raising the issue in Parliament on Wednesday, Thein Nyunt proposed an amendment to reduce the heavy penalties—up to 15 years in prison and a fine—allowed under Section 12 of the law.
Ba Shein said the Bill Committee would review the law and continue to discuss amendments.
He added that amendments could not be approved until the next parliamentary session, with the current 7th session closing at the end of this month.