Lower House Votes to Keep Emergency Provisions Act

By Tin Htet Paing 21 May 2015

RANGOON — A proposal to revoke a controversial law that has been used to jail political dissidents has been rejected by Burma’s Lower House of Parliament, its supporters claiming that overturning the legislation would “throw the country into chaos.”

The Emergency Provisions Act, enacted in 1950, carries death penalties and sentences up to life in prison for treason or sabotage against military organizations, as well as up to seven years in prison for a sweeping range of other offenses against the state.

Burma’s leading opposition party, the National League for Democracy, proposed scrapping the legislation during a Lower House session on Wednesday, on the grounds that successive governments have primarily used it as a tool for arresting activists.

The proposal was rejected by a landslide vote of 50 for, 256 against and 17 abstentions.

Lower House parliamentarian Win Myint, a member of the NLD, said his party was disappointed by the defeat, which preserved what he views as a redundant law designed to instill fear and restrict political activity.

“All of the provisions in the law are already enshrined in the Penal Code,” Win Myint said. “The Penal Code is already in place to prosecute those who break the law. It is unacceptable that [authorities] can repress citizens with another law.”

Representing the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in Shan State, a lawmaker known only as Stephen defended the vote to preserve the law.

“Revoking the law would throw the country into chaos; there would be anarchy, riots and violence,” Stephen said. “This law is necessary for the stability of the state.”

The Emergency Provisions Act was enacted by the government of Burma’s first prime minister, U Nu, in response to civil wars 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 otherwise “jeopardize the state.”

Lawyer Robert San Aung, a prominant defense attorney for political activists and human rights defenders, said the law had lost its relevance and should be retired into the annals of Burmese history.

“At present, there is no fighting across the plains; there is nothing to lose [from revoking the law],” said Robert San Aung. “At this time, the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act should be a record to be placed in an archive, so it should be revoked.”

Wednesday’s proposal was the third unsuccessful attempt by lawmakers to repeal or amend the law since the start of Burma’s reforms in 2011. Thein Nyunt of the New National Democratic Party made the first proposal in 2011. In 2012, he again appealed to the Lower House for removal of sections 5 (c) and (j), which pertain to disruption of the performance or morality of military and other state personnel.