Upper House Bill Committee Backs Abolishment of Controversial Emergency Law

By Tin Htet Paing 2 September 2016

RANGOON— Burma’s Parliament moved one step closer to annulling the controversial Emergency Provisions Act as the Upper House Bill Committee backed a proposal on Friday to abolish the 66-year-old law.

The bill was approved by the Lower House in late July after a debate involving military lawmakers and the Defense Ministry, who suggested making changes to the law rather than scrapping it.

Lawmaker Thein Lwin, a member of the Upper House Bill Committee and the National League for Democracy (NLD), took the floor of the Parliament on Friday and said his committee recommended that the Upper House approve the bill, emphasizing that it had already been passed by the Lower House.

“We propose seeking a parliamentary decision,” Thein Lwin said at the legislative session.

Speaker of the Upper House, Mahn Win Khaing Than, said that lawmakers who would like to debate the bill should register to do so by Wednesday, Sept. 7, at the latest.

The Emergency Provisions Act was originally enacted in 1950 by the government of Burma’s first prime minister, U Nu, and granted the authorities the right to jail individuals who spread what was deemed as “false news.” Successive military administrations ruling the country have abused the law and used it to suppress dissidents.

The law imposes 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.

In 2015, during ex-president Thein Sein’s administration, the NLD—the then-leading opposition party—proposed scrapping the legislation in the Lower House. However, the move failed as the chamber was under the wider influence of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party majority at the time.

Lower House Speaker Win Myint, once said in 2015 that the law was designed “to instill fear and restrict political activity.”