Burma

Punishments Reduced, But Burma’s Harsh Online Law Remains

By Simon Roughneen 24 October 2013

RANGOON — Burma’s restrictive Electronic Transactions Law, under which political dissidents were in the past imprisoned for sending or receiving “detrimental” e-mails, remains in place for now, though work continues to have the code revised or replaced.

This week Rangoon parliamentarian Thein Nyunt won the consent of fellow Lower House MPs to have punishments under the law reduced, with lawmakers voting to replace prison sentences with a system of fines.

Citing his previous attempts to have the law removed or overhauled, the New National Democratic Party MP told The Irrawaddy that “I brought this law up before Parliament four times during all the sessions of Parliament held since the government was formed.”

The Electronic Transactions Law dates back to 2004 and includes up to 15 years’ prison time for “acts by using electronic transactions technology” deemed “detrimental to the security of the State or prevalence of law and order or community peace and tranquility or national solidarity or national economy or national culture.”

And while those lengthy jail terms are to be abolished, Thein Nyunt believes that such changes don’t go far enough. “The law should be removed or at least amended,” he said.

The law includes a vaguely worded ban on “receiving or sending and distributing any information relating to secrets of the security of the State or prevalence of law and order or community peace and tranquility or national solidarity or national economy or national culture.”

Among the better-known public figures jailed under the law were former student protestor Ko Ko Gyi and comedian Zarganar.

However, despite the seeming reluctance of MPs to bin or even substantially revise the existing law, reformists are not giving up.

The Myanmar Computer Federation (MCF) will meet next week to discuss what it hopes will be a wide-ranging new draft law, which it will push to either replace the current code or be used as a template for revision.

“We will include some sections on e-commerce, while some sections of the law we will modify, and some sections we will add as new,” said Myint Myint Than, the MCF’s director.

She would not comment on when the new draft would be put before Parliament. “We may have a public consultation on the draft after our meeting on Monday,” she told The Irrawaddy.

Those involved in putting the draft together include the Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO), a group headed by blogger Nay Phone Latt, who also did time under the Electronic Transactions Law.

MIDO’s Vice Executive Director Nyi Nyi Thanlwin told The Irrawaddy that while the new draft was needed soon, activists also need to keep an eye on related regulations, such as the telecommunications rules—which have to be put in place within 90 days of the recently passed Telecommunications Law’s enactment. The telecoms codes will, MIDO says, have a bearing on what needs to be drawn up to replace the existing Electronic Transactions Law.

Work on replacing or redrafting the Electronic Transactions Law has been ongoing for several months. Online businesses and activists have suggested that, as well as needing a revamped Electronic Transactions Law, Burma will need separate laws covering areas such as cyber-crime and online pornography.

“I think the government may come up with a draft cyber-crime law, but it is early days yet,” Nyi Nyi Thanlwin said.

Additional reporting by Htet Naing Zaw.

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