Reporters’ Arrest Could Lead to Review of Unlawful Associations Act

By San Yamin Aung 7 July 2017

YANGON — U Shwe Mann, chairman of Myanmar’s Union Parliament Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission, has said amendments to the colonial era Unlawful Associations need to be considered, following the arrest of three journalists in Shan State who were charged under the law.

“We have to take into consideration amendments of the law,” the chairman said in a statement released on Friday addressing the case of the three detained journalists under Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act.

While U Shwe Mann said he does not know all the details of the case, he wrote that revisions to the 1908 law must be well thought out, and that while there is a focus on national reconciliation in the country, concerned parties should “exercise restraint” in their words and actions.

U Shwe Mann referred to Myanmar’s neighbor, India, which also imposed the Unlawful Associations Act during the British colonial era, but has since amended the law.

The Irrawaddy’s Lawi Weng (aka U Thein Zaw) and Democratic Voice of Burma’s Aye Nai and Pyae Phone Aung, along with three civilians, were charged under the statute on June 28 for contacting an ethnic armed group, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

The reporters covered a drug-burning event to mark the UN’s day against drug abuse in a TNLA-controlled area. Violators of Article 17(1) face two to three years in prison and a possible fine for being a member of an “unlawful association,” making contributions to such an association or assisting in its operations.

The act has long been used by the authorities to arrest and detain people in conflict affected areas, particularly in ethnic states.

National League for Democracy lawmaker and commission member U Maung Maung Ohn said that the Union Parliament Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission would review the law.

He added that the chairman U Shwe Mann had told commission members at a meeting on Friday to consider amending the outdated law.

“We will reconsider whether it is good for citizen and their rights, and if this law is reasonable in this time of democratic transition,” U Maung Maung Ohn said. “How will we define whether an association is lawful or unlawful? We can’t just call a group an ‘unlawful’ association because it is not reconciled with us,” he said, adding that this is of importance during peace talks with ethnic armed groups.