Lawmaker Complains of State Surveillance in Lower House

By Htet Naing Zaw 10 February 2017

NAYPYIDAW — A Lower House lawmaker complained on Friday about the government use of surveillance, tailing, taking photos, and recording conversations of lawmakers, saying that these types of actions harm security and violate the privacy and dignity of elected officials.

“We have been treated like this for ages, but now under an elected government, these actions give rise to the suspicion that certain elements want to resurrect the dictatorship,” complained U Maung Maung Oo, a Lower House lawmaker who represents Rangoon’s Insein Township.

He said he wanted to know which agency or which person was ordering the surveillance. He asked the government to explain.

Maj-Gen Aung Soe, the deputy home affairs minister, said that his ministry had no reason to investigate elected lawmakers, except for verifying that the candidates followed electoral laws and were qualified to run for election. He said the ministry submitted a report on these investigations to the Union Election Commission (UEC).

“The Home Affairs Ministry does not assign anyone to follow or conduct surveillance of lawmakers, either secretly or openly,” said Maj-Gen Aung Soe.

Daw Khin San Hlaing of Pale Township echoed the complaint, saying that she was fed up with being under surveillance.

“The police are always tailing me, all the time. They say it’s for security reasons. I often hear them informing about my whereabouts to their police station, and I am tired of it,” she said.

Daw Khin San Hlaing said that the police also report on the turnouts at her public meetings.

“I don’t like it. We elected lawmakers do not need [protection] by security [personnel]. Previously, they tailed us to investigate us, and now they tail us for ‘security reasons.’ Only the name has changed,” said Daw Khin San Hlaing.

Lower House speaker U Win Myint also spoke out. He said government agencies must respect the rights and duties of lawmakers.

“If lawmakers are subjected to this treatment, please complain with concrete evidence. Please send us the evidence. Also send it to the parliamentary rights committee, to the concerned departments, and to the ministry,” said U Win Myint.

U Win Myint stressed the need to enact a bill to protect citizens from surveillance and intrusion as quickly as possible. He urged the bill committee to finish a draft law by the end of the current session of Parliament.

U Maung Maung Oo said he had submitted the evidence of state surveillance to the deputy home affairs minister. The deputy minister promised to take action, he said.

“These are the methods they used to suppress democracy activists under the dictatorial regimes. In addition, [the Home Affairs Ministry] still taps the telephones of prominent politicians,” he said.

As a member of the commission that investigates district-level farmland disputes, U Maung Maung Oo said that he had been subjected to surveillance by Special Branch officers. The Special Branch is a division of police under the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs.

U Maung Maung Oo said that agents had watched him hold in meeting in January with farmers whose lands had been confiscated for construction of the Dagon-Ayeya highway bus terminal.

“As soon as I arrived at the meeting, I knew there was an agent. I asked somebody to tell him to leave. Then halfway through the meeting, I asked him who he was. He said he was from the Special Branch. I asked him if he was invited, and he said ‘No,’ and then I asked him to leave again,” said U Maung Maung Oo.